Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal episode 2: Angela and Adam also ask if eugenic-style attitudes towards the poor and disabled continue to shape today’s society, and explore if breakthroughs in medicine, such as screening and gene editing, will combine with prejudice against the disabled to bring a form of eugenics back. They weigh the undoubted benefits of modern medicine with the possibility of their misuse in the name of human enhancement. They look into the story of the first attempts to edit the genomes of humans in China and explore the latest science on the issue of what’s more important—nature or nurture.
Science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson uncover the shocking story of eugenics, the controversial idea that the human race can be improved by selective breeding. It is commonly thought that eugenics disappeared after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but the presenters discover how eugenic practices, such as the sterilisation of the poor, continued on a global scale for many more years. The presenters meet the victims of this ideology, including a woman who was sterilised.
Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal episode 2
Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population, historically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior or promoting those judged to be superior. In recent years, the term has seen a revival in bioethical discussions on the usage of new technologies such as CRISPR and genetic screening, with a heated debate on whether these technologies should be called eugenics or not.
The concept predates the term; Plato suggested applying the principles of selective breeding to humans around 400 BC. Early advocates of eugenics in the 19th century regarded it as a way of improving groups of people. In contemporary usage, the term is closely associated with scientific racism.
While eugenic principles have been practiced as early as ancient Greece, the contemporary history of eugenics began in the late 19th century, when a popular eugenics movement emerged in the United Kingdom, and then spread to many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and most European countries. In this period, people from across the political spectrum espoused eugenic ideas. Consequently, many countries adopted eugenic policies, intended to improve the quality of their populations’ genetic stock.
Such programs included both positive measures, such as encouraging individuals deemed particularly “fit” to reproduce, and negative measures, such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction. Those deemed “unfit to reproduce” often included people with mental or physical disabilities, people who scored in the low ranges on different IQ tests, criminals and “deviants”, and members of disfavored minority groups.