sábado, 27 de febrero de 2016

BioEdge: Harvard’s dark past as the “brain trust” of American eugenics

BioEdge: Harvard’s dark past as the “brain trust” of American eugenics

Harvard’s dark past as the “brain trust” of American eugenics

Harvard University is the richest, most famous and oldest university in the US – and it won the Harvard-Yale game last year 38-19. But one distinction which it would rather forget is that it was the “brain trust” of American eugenics.

The author of a just-published study on the most famous law case involving eugenics, Adam Cohen, writes that “Harvard was more central to American eugenics than any other university.” (Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, Penguin 2016.)

One of Harvard’s 19th century presidents, Charles William Eliot, was a vice president of the First International Eugenics Congress in 1912. In 1914 he helped to organise the First National Conference on Race Betterment in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, dean of Harvard Medical School, popular writer, coiner of the term “Boston Brahmin” and father of the future Supreme Court justice, was one of the first Americans to promote eugenics.

A. Lawrence Lowell, president from 1909 to 1933, actively promoted eugenics. During his tenure, many leading academics promoted eugenic theories. Economist Frank W. Taussig believed that “Certain types of criminals and paupers breed only their kind, and society has a right and a duty to protect its members from the repeated burden of maintaining and guarding such parasites.” Botanist Edward M. East warned of the degeneration of the white race. He wrote emphatically: “the negro is inferior to the white.”

Psychologist Robert M. Yerkes developed an IQ test for the US Army which found that about half the men who took it were “feeble-minded”. This was “evidence” of the need for sterilizing the “unfit” and keeping out immigrants. Dudley Allen Sargent, who was head of physical education at Harvard in the early 1900s, was a firm believer in racial betterment.

Charles Benedict Davenport, a Harvard graduate and zoologist founded the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, in 1910, which became the chief promoter of eugenic sterilization laws. Lothrop Stoddard, a Harvard PhD, became the chief propagandist of American eugenics. His 1920 bestseller was titled The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy.

The jewel in the crown of Harvard eugenics is Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, a former Harvard Law School professor and Harvard Overseer, and one of the most influential jurists ever to serve on the US Supreme Court. He wrote the 8-1 majority opinion in Buck v. Bell, which declared that eugenic sterilization was constitutional. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” he wrote about Carrie Buck, her mother and her infant daughter.

Cohen, a Harvard alumnus himself, concludes his article in the Harvard Gazette with a warning for the future.

There are also forward-looking reasons to revisit this dark moment in the University’s past. Biotechnical science has advanced to the brink of a new era of genetic possibilities. In the next few years, the headlines will be full of stories about gene-editing technology, genetic “solutions” for a variety of human afflictions and frailties, and even “designer babies.” Given that Harvard affiliates, again, will play a large role in all of these, it is important to contemplate how wrong so many people tied to the University got it the first time—and to think hard about how, this time, to get it right.
Disclosure: Michael Cook is also a Harvard alumnus and lived in Eliot House, named after Charles William Eliot
- See more at: http://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/harvards-dark-past-as-the-brain-trust-of-american-eugenics/11771#sthash.xBsMsaD1.dpuf


Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr may have been the most influential justice of the past 100 years to serve on the US Supreme Court. He was a Civil War hero, a law professor, the oldest justice ever, and the subject of a best-selling biography and a Hollywood film.
Next year will mark the 90th anniversary of his most famous case, Buck v Bell. The Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that compulsory eugenic sterilization was constitutional. Holmes wrote the majority opinion in his characteristically crisp prose. As a direct result, many more states passed eugenic laws mandating sterilization of “feeble-minded” men and women. Nazi Germany modelled its even harsher laws on American legislation.
His words summing up the argument for eugenics have become notorious for their cruelty:
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
The question that haunts the memory of Holmes is: how did he get it so wrong? How did America’s most eminent and admired jurist support an evil policy which played a part in the Nazis’ rationalisation of the Holocaust? Holmes may have been the only justice cited in defence of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.
Holmes was not alone, of course. As we report in an article below, eugenics was a wildly popular policy in early 20th century America, especially amongst the better sort of people, like the Boston Brahmins into which Holmes was born. As we enter a new era of do-it-yourself eugenics with better technology for genetic editing, it is urgent to understand why our predecessors were so blind, lest we repeat their mistakes.

Michael Cook

This week in BioEdge

by Michael Cook | Feb 27, 2016
Government report recommends a stop to both altruistic and commercial surrogacy

by Xavier Symons | Feb 27, 2016
It is an oft-raised concern that genetic engineering may one day morph into a eugenics movement.

by Xavier Symons | Feb 27, 2016
In an edition of the Journal of Applied Philosophy released this week, several academics discussed Peter Singer’s influential theory of “speciesism”.

by Xavier Symons | Feb 27, 2016
Oxford academic Neil Levy suggests that “prestige bias” is one factor driving Trump’s rise.

by Michael Cook | Feb 26, 2016
What are the bioethics of tattooing one or both of your eyeballs?

by Michael Cook | Feb 26, 2016
Report recommends most permissive options

by Michael Cook | Feb 25, 2016
Even the Supreme Court justice who wrote, "three generations of imbeciles are enough" was a graduate and former law professor.

by Xavier Symons | Feb 24, 2016
In a word, no.

by Carrie D. Wolinetz and Xavier Symons | Feb 23, 2016
In an exclusive interview with BioEdge, Dr. Carrie D. Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy at the National Institutes of Health, discusses the ethical issues…
Suite 12A, Level 2 | 5 George St | North Strathfield NSW 2137 | Australia
Phone: +61 2 8005 8605
Mobile: 0422-691-615
New Media Foundation | Level 2, 5 George St | North Strathfield NSW 2137 | AUSTRALIA | +61 2 8005 8605 

No hay comentarios: