Eugenics is a social movement that involves manipulating human genetic inheritance to bring out the traits that are believed to be “best.” While the future of the human race is an issue of concern to most people, many people distance themselves from eugenics because it has some very negative connotations. This practice has been used historically as an argument for mandatory sterilization and a variety of other policies that have been targeted at the “lesser” members of the society with the goal of eliminating their genetic heritage from the gene pool.
The story of eugenics begins in the 1800s, when Francis Golton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term and started to explore the idea of consciously altering the course of human evolution. Support for eugenics grew, and at one point many leading members of the scientific community believed in the movement. Most modern scientists regard it as a form of pseudoscience, although in strict point of fact, humans could indeed be bred like animals to bring out specific desired traits.
Historically, many of the arguments used to support eugenics have indeed been pseudoscientific in nature, even if the fundamental assumption that humans could be improved through breeding was sound. Scientists who worked in the field used fallacious arguments, like the idea that dark-skinned people were naturally less intelligent than light-skinned people, or that poor people were more likely to be intellectually challenged than those with money. In essence, eugenics supported the idea that wealthy, white people should be permitted to propagate the human race, while poor people, members of some religions, people of color, and individuals with disabilities should be eliminated from the gene pool.
Eugenics ignores the profound role that environment has on human development, focusing on identifying genetic traits. Many of the traits believed to be genetic by members of the movement were later proved to be more closely related to environment, and the fact that eugenics played a role in the Holocaust further added to the stigma of this branch of scientific inquiry.
Most researchers into the history of the movement, along with people who dabble in this field today — calling their field “liberal eugenics” — distinguish between two forms. In positive eugenics, people with traits that are perceived as positive are encouraged to have children. Negative eugenics involves the suppression of traits deemed negative; historically, this involved using forced sterilization, imprisonment, denial of social services, segregation, genocide, restrictions on marriage, birth control without consent, and forced abortions as tools.