Eugenics and the Quality of Life

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources


There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Was the value of the life of Mephibosheth less than other’s lives (2 Samuel 4:4; 9:6-13)? What about the man born blind (John 9) or the woman who developed a bleeding problem (Mark 5:25-34)? How about the Lystra man born crippled (Acts 14:8-20)? Would these people have been better off never to have lived? Would everyone else have been better off if they had not lived?

These kinds of questions are consistently raised in debates regarding eugenics. The answers can be even more frightening.

In the summer of 1923, 17-year-old Carrie Buck became pregnant. Her mother, who lived in an institution, was deemed to have the mental age of an 8-year-old child. Carrie had been cared for by an adoptive family that institutionalized her as “feeble-minded” when her pregnancy was discovered. She gave birth to a daughter, Vivian.

In 1924 the commonwealth of Virginia legalized the forced sterilization of the mentally retarded. In September of that year the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, where Carrie lived, filed a petition to sterilize the young woman. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 2, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that Virginia could authorize the compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote the majority opinion including in part:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. 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.”

After the Supreme Court ruling, Carrie Buck was sterilized. It was later discovered Carrie became pregnant not because of her “feeble-mindedness,” but as a result of a rape by a relative while the adoptive mother was gone. Carrie’s daughter, Vivian, was not an imbecile. She achieved the class honor roll at age seven before she died of an intestinal illness one year later.

Carrie was eventually released from the institution. She married William Eagle, and the two were married for 25 years before Mr. Eagle’s death. Carrie’s final years were spent in a nursing home; she died in 1983 at the age of 76. She was an avid reader and lamented not being able to bear more children.

Carrie became the victim of the eugenics movement. It was the early American eugenics movement that supported eugenics research in Germany prior to World War II. Then Josef Mengele gained notoriety as the infamous Nazi doctor involved in the holocaust in Germany. His work was financially supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The discovery of the Nazi atrocities horrified the world. Bettering the species also meant prejudicing against the weak, the disabled, and those considered to be of “inferior” breeding. The gory details of Nazi experiments captured headlines. Most alarming, however, was the mentality of people who caused and allowed such experimentation.

Although the methodologies have changed, the mentality remains. People still measure lives by subjective standards of value, based most often on intellect. As the world drifts further from its Creator it usurps the authority of determining right and wrong, quality and deficiency, based on those who should live or die.

Our society continues on its increasingly selfish quest (Matthew 24:12). While few today would use the candor of Justice Holmes that “[T]hree generations of imbeciles are enough,” the language and approach have instead been massaged. We conduct prenatal tests in order to identify and terminate less-desired children (a.k.a. “search and destroy” methods). We venerate intellect above charity, compassion, faithfulness, honesty, and truth. We talk about the “great minds of our time” with little regard of how those minds are used. We talk about “death with dignity” with no regard for the Author of life and death.

Don’t be fooled by today’s sanitized rhetoric! The measure of quality in life begins not with the life but with its Author. God created life and sacrificed His own Son to redeem life – all life – regardless of its quality (John 3:16). Because of sin there are the disabled and weak along with sickness and death. while a self-serving society sees these maladies as cause to terminate life Christians see it differently.

Healing wounds, comforting those in pain, helping those with a disability are all laudable goals in life and are consistent with God’s Word. To self-righteously stand in judgment upon others for their lesser intellect or lesser physical condition is a perverted form of worldly godliness and must be rejected.

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