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2007 in Review: Eugenics: Remembered. Re-imagined. Revived?

Genetic Crossroads
December 21st, 2007

This year marked both the 100th anniversary of an Indiana law that authorized the involuntary sterilization of "undesirables" - the first of dozens of such laws in the U.S. - and the 80th anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court decision that upheld Virginia's eugenic sterilization law. Indiana issued an apology for its role; calls for other states to do the same were issued; the Washington Post ran an op-ed by disability rights leaders about Oliver Wendell Holmes' dismaying comment in the Virginia decision that "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Eugenics also made an appearance in U.S. popular culture. The movie 300, a racially charged account of an ancient battle between Sparta and Persia, also delivered an unapologetic glorification of eugenics. In this retelling, the Spartans are brave, noble and beautiful because they are committed to abandoning "defective" newborns to die; victory over their enemies is thwarted by a physically disabled traitor who should never have been permitted to live.

And then there was James Watson. The Nobel Laureate's disgraceful assertions about race and intelligence made headlines across the globe - see "Scientific Racism Redux" in this Genetic Crossroads. CGS pointed out that these remarks - and Watson's numerous other instances of bigotry - aren't the whole story: Watson has also been an aggressive advocate of mobilizing genetic science in the service of a revived program of eugenics.


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