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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Eugenics Society

The Wellcome Library is part of the Wellcome Foundation based in London

It has recently performed a public service. It recently announced that the complete archive of the Eugenics Review journal - from 1909 through to 1968 when the title ceased - has been digitised through the Wellcome Library's Backfile Digitisation Project, and is now freely available at PubMed Central

The Journal was the official journal of the Eugenics Education Society (later known as just the Eugenics Society)

The Eugenics Society was founded to promote public awareness of eugenic problems, i.e. the existence of hereditary qualities both positive and negative, and the need to encourage social responsibility with respect to these qualities.

The Wellcome Library also holds the archives of the Eugenics Society.

The Society still exists: It is now known as The Galton Institute


It is customary for historians to trace the origins of the closely related ideological currents of Social Darwinism and eugenics to Britain, and especially to the statistician Francis Galton (1822–1911).

Historians have focused on eugenics and sterilization in Britain, North America and Germany. But eugenics became more than a variation of anti-Semitism and racism: it was influential in social policy (population growth and the poor) and professionalism.

In Britain eugenics was taken up by a liberal intelligensia pursiong solutions to perceived social crises. In the early years of the twentieth century, these ideas spread through Britain`s Imperial role to Canada, Australia and other parts of the Empire.

Eugenics became an integral part of public health in terms of strategies aimed at tackling chronic degenerative diseases, mental illness and sexually transmitted diseases.

Similar movements grew up in the United States, Russia and Europe.

During the 1920s both Germany and the Soviet Union developed vigorous eugenic movements, and these states soon began to collaborate in areas of hygiene, social medicine and racial studies.

In the 1920s, eugenic movements flourished in Europe,

Eugenics became transformed from its initial, “positive,” preoccupation with social and medical assistance, to the propagation of “negative” measures such as sterilization and clinical confinement,and during the early 1920s, “racial hygiene” comprised the scientific model of hygiene and public health.

Eugenicists and racial nationalists debated the ethnic minority questions and proposed various measures, including birth control and sterilization, as well as transfer of populations, as possible solutions.

It has been said that the infusion of racial nationalism with eugenics between 1900 and 1940 is identifiable within three clusters of ideas and ideological commitments: the professionalization of medicine; the emergence of “scientific” versions of nationalism; and the fusion of völkisch biomedical ideology with anti-Semitism.

Against these ideas stood the Roman Catholic Church. In particular it was Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical Casti Connubii (31st December 1930) who made the Catholic position crystal clear and earned the disgust, disdain and hatred of eugenicists

He condemned laws for compulsory and voluntary abortion and sterilisation, laws forbidding marrriage and child bearing on eugenic grounds and other favoured eugenic projects:

"66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may come of it.

67. Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the duty of public authority by appropriate laws and sanctions to defend the lives of the innocent, and this all the more so since those whose lives are endangered and assailed cannot defend themselves. Among whom we must mention in the first place infants hidden in the mother's womb. And if the public magistrates not only do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death at the hands of doctors or of others, let them remember that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cried from earth to Heaven.

68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

70. Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason. St. Thomas teaches this when inquiring whether human judges for the sake of preventing future evils can inflict punishment, he admits that the power indeed exists as regards certain other forms of evil, but justly and properly denies it as regards the maiming of the body. "No one who is guiltless may be punished by a human tribunal either by flogging to death, or mutilation, or by beating."

In looking through the various articles, letters and reviews of the Journal of the Eugenics Society, one can see two things:

1. The fundamental difference between the Catholic Church and the Eugenicists was in their respective views and appreciation of the human being. The Church has always been consistent. “Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 63)

2. The same issues which arose in the period 1908 to 1968 arise today. The same arguments are being rehearsed over again. See Chapter Two: Human Development in Our Time" of Pope Benedict XVI`s Encyclical Caritas in Veritate

See in particular paragraph 28:

"28. One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples. It is an aspect which has acquired increasing prominence in recent times, obliging us to broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways.

Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion. In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition.

Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual."


One of the great supporters and founders of the Eugenics Society was William Ralph Inge (6 June 1860 – 26 February 1954) Anglican priest, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. He was one of the "Great and the Good" and highly influential in British society and in the Anglican Church, unfortunately.

One gets a taste of the man from some of his contributions which are quite shocking today:


What nations and classes will prevail?: Galton lecture, February 17th, 1919 Eugen Rev. 1919 April; 11(1): 17–20. PMCID: PMC2942156



Here are the Society`s views on Pius XI and Casti Connubii:

On catholicism: As revealed in the latest encyclical of his holiness Pope Pius XI   Eugen Rev. 1931 April; 23(1): 41–45. PMCID: PMC2985003

Notes of the Quarter  Eugen Rev. 1931 July; 23(2): 103–106. PMCID: PMC2985046


The Journal`s articles in the early decades of its existence about Reform of the Poor Law, the Sterilisation of "The Imbeciles", comments about those of the Jewish religion or of Irish extraction, and the Catholic Church and its members are self-revelatory.

The contributions by Havelock Ellis, Marie Stopes, Cyril Burt and Francis Galton and others make salutary reading.

One wonders why many regards these people as heroes. If such characters had been in the Catholic Church they would have been condemned and criticised.

See also:

Pope Pius XI: Against the Tide of Eugenics