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Austin Cline

Nazis Learned Eugenics from America

By April 29, 2004

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Many in America argue that there is no "right to privacy" protected by the Constitution. The point, generally speaking, is to also argue that there is no right to have an abortion. Some go a bit further and also argue that access to contraception and contraceptive information also shouldn't be protected. But if the ability not to become a parent is unprotected, what about the ability to become a parent?

Michael Ollove writes in the Baltimore Sun about the presentation of eugenics at the U.S. Holocaust Museum:

"The United States certainly pioneered the establishment of those laws on the books," said Garland Allen, a professor of the history of science at Washington University. In 1907, Indiana passed the first sterilization law in the United States; by 1933, 34 other states had followed suit. Most never acted on their laws, but some - California, Virginia and North Carolina - did. By the time sterilizations ended in the United States in the 1970s, the procedure had claimed an estimated 60,000 victims, most of them institutionalized and poor.
Eugenicists in Germany were jealous of the success of their counterparts in America and other countries where compulsory sterilization was permitted. Nevertheless, eugenics gained ground in Weimar Germany, particularly in the social upheaval of economic and political collapse. Asylums and hospitals were overburdened, their patients disparaged. Eugenicists Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche rued the deaths of German soldiers in World War I ("the best of humanity" in their language) compared to the continued existence of the mentally retarded ("idiots," in their words), on whom "the best care is lavished" despite their lives of "negative worth."

Take a look at that last date in the first paragraph above: forced sterilizations in the United States didn't end until the 1970s. How many people are aware of this? Were you aware of this? If you are outraged at the idea of the government sterilizing people regarded as "unfit" to breed, consider for a moment the fact that there is nothing spelled out in the Constitution which protects people from such things.

The only constitutional barrier between us that forced sterilizations is the "right to privacy" which is so often criticized. The flip-side of the "right to choose" not to be a parent (through contraceptives or abortion) is the right to choose to be a parent. If you don't have one, it's tough to argue that you have the other.

We might imagine that today it isn't very likely the government will begin forced sterilizations - but we're probably only as safe from that as we are safe from having legalized abortion overturned. There is also the problem of eugenics working in the other direction: people seeking not to kill or sterilize the "unfit," but to ensure that only the "fittest" are born in the first place.

If genetic testing and alteration can be used to help parents ensure that their children don't suffer from any defects, what is to prevent the government or insurance companies from forcing parents to do this? Could an insurance company refuse to cover the costs of pregnancy, delivery, and care of a child that isn't subjected to "improvement"? If not, why not - what legal or constitutional barriers are there to this?

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