The Values of Modern Eugenics

The Values of Modern Eugenics



James Leftwich


Presentation: 1:15-2:30 p.m., Kennedy Union Ballroom



The Values of Modern Eugenics In this project I will compare the values that influenced the eugenics movement of the early 1900s and the current movement to eradicate certain syndromes. I examine the work of Charles Davenport who was extremely influential in the Eugenics movement in the US. He was motivated by the goals of bettering humanity to create a super-race, solving social problems such as prostitution, alcoholism, criminality, and eliminating mental and bodily illnesses. He believed he could achieve them by means of forced sterilization, to prevent undesirable traits from being passed on to the next generation, and antiimmigration laws, to prevent immigration of people deemed inferior. These goals and the means for achieving them were based on the value of the superior Nordic European type of people, the ideal of an able body and mind, and a productive and efficient society. I compare the case of eugenics with the current movements to eradicate phenotypes that my lead to mental or bodily illnesses. I examine a famous program from Iceland that uses pre-natal screening technologies to help expecting mothers to test their fetuses for the Down syndrome and then decide whether to abort them. The program has nearly eradicated babies with the Down syndrome. This program is not mandatory. Supporters of the program argue that it makes the lives of the parents easier and helps to eliminate the financial burden on parents, especially those who cannot afford the extra care needed. I show that the values that underlie this program are trying to decrease the perceived burden these illnesses pose on society. I conclude by showing that the current programs to eradicate undesired syndromes assume values that are like the eugenics movement, but are dissimilar due to being voluntary, yet social expectations incentivize participation in them.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Course Project 202310 PHL 331 C1

Primary Advisor

Viorel Paslaru

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences

Institutional Learning Goals

Community; Diversity; Critical Evaluation of Our Times

The Values of Modern Eugenics