Home > Bio-Ethics > Chesterton and Eugenics

Recently in the TV programme Insiders, screened on Euronews, Malta was portrayed in a negative light as abortion is not legalised. Sadly, Malta is the only EU country that stands tall over this most fundamental of issues, the right to life.

Unfortunately, Europe has undergone a profound revolution in its value systems that has resulted in the legislation of abortion, euthanasia and the adoption of reproductive technologies that disregard the sanctity of life from its early stages, resulting in treating the human embryo as a commodity.

Despite the advances in medical science that aim at eliminating suffering and disabilities, there have also been negative developments. Medical techniques and procedures, instead of being used to treat illness, disease and genetic defects, are increasingly being used to eliminate the unwanted, unfit and imperfect individuals.

These developments are not as progressive as we think. The term “eugenics” was coined about one hundred years ago, in the 19th century, by an Englishman named Francis Galton, influenced by his cousin Charles Darwin.

This new concept of eugenics, the breeding of the perfect being and the weeding out of the unfit was greeted with remarkable enthusiasm by the majority of the wealthy and intelligentsia in UK. This infectious ideology spread to US and set root in Germany with frightful consequences.

One of the leading proponents of eugenics was the American woman, Margaret Sanger, who founded the Planned Parenthood. She aggressively promoted birth control and the widespread use of contraceptives. She said she wanted to use birth control to remove the unfit from the gene pool. Under the term “unfit”, she meant not only the physically handicapped and the mentally retarded, but also, specifically, “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes”.

Sanger was also a member of the American Eugenics Society, which successfully lobbied for sterilization laws that targeted society’s undesirables and unwanted. The US was to carry out campaigns that ended up sterilising thousands of individuals right up to the 1970s.

When man loses his moral bearing, wrong-headed ideas have evil consequences. Sadly, we seem to have learnt very little

Eugenic ideology also led to the Immigration Act of 1924, which created quotas for immigrants from southern and eastern Europe that remained in effect until 1965, justifying such racist policies on the grounds of preventing the ‘contamination of American stock’.

Almost alone, G. K Chesterton stood up against this despicable philosophy and with his proverbial scathing wit and rock-solid logic mocked and poured scorn on such ideas.

Meanwhile the likes of Sanger and other supporters of eugenics had nothing but praise for the progressive methods being adopted by Hitler in purifying German stock. With the fall of Nazi Germany, the world was shocked with horrors of the concentration camps and the Holocaust.

When man loses his moral bearing, wrong-headed ideas have evil consequences. Sadly, we seem to have learnt very little.

Unfortunately, eugenics is back with a vengeance. The original arguments in favour of eugenics have become the same arguments in favour of birth control, abortion, and euthanasia.

The Western world is adopting new technologies in­cluding genetic engineering, selective abortion, re­productive technologies that involve the donation of sperm from men with high IQs, ‘eugenically superior’ eggs, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, to achieve the aims of quality-controlled chil­dren.

Women are being subjected to screening and pressure is being applied to force them to abort foetuses which are considered inferior. The recent development of ‘safe’ methods to diagnose children with Down’s syndrome is already having a powerful impact in UK. Countries now congratulate themselves that they do not have children with birth defects, even defects that are eminently treatable such as hare lip.

Instead of being used for its noble purpose, treating people and alleviating suffering, modern medicine is being used more and more to eliminate and sacrifice the patient.

One could say that Chesterton was prophetic. He could foresee where decisions based on narrow self interest in the absence of a moral framework would lead us and he used his formidable intellect to expose this in his book Eugenics and Other Evils that was published in 1922.

Almost a hundred years later, the issue has not gone away, nor have any of Chesterton’s arguments gone out of date.

We are fortunate that once again, two outstanding Chestertonians, Ian Boyd and Dermot Quinn will be holding a conference on Friday in Malta where they will address this vital issue of eugenics and the impact such ideas would have on our society.

They will also refresh our memory by presenting the exceptional ability of GKC to demolish the myth that good ideals can be achieved by shoddy means.

Malta still prides itself in regarding the life of persons as sacred and inviolable. Science can be an important tool for effective public policy, but if it is not tempered by an unfailing respect for individual rights, then it will lead to deplorable policies.

Klaus Vella Bardon is vice-chairman of the Life Network Foundation Malta.

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