Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lombardo on Disability, Eugenics, and the Culture Wars

Disability, Eugenics, and the Culture Wars is a new article by Paul A. Lombardo, Georgia State University College of Law, author of the book Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. The article will appear in the St. Louis Journal of Health Law & Policy (2009). Here's the abstract:
The eugenics movement provided the motive for dozens of laws that remained in force for more than a century in the United States, a significant number of which specifically targeted people with disabilities for legally sanctioned discrimination. Similar laws were adopted around the world, perhaps most notably as part of Hitler’s prelude to the Holocaust. Consequently, we tend to associate the word “eugenics” with all things evil. Yet the underlying message of eugenicists was popular for so long not solely because it denoted coercive legislation but more often because it signaled a hopeful future devoid of social problems. This paper describes how the word “eugenics” is now coming back into common use, and how it has been revived in the service of political objectives, divorced from the period in which it developed and the meaning it had within its earlier historical context. The resulting distortions - directly traceable to the ongoing “culture war” over reproductive rights - suggests that we should be careful when we play the “eugenics card” lest rhetorical zeal eliminate the possibility for honest debate.