December 17, 2005


The Collapsing Claims on Cloning (NY Times, 12/17/05)

The Korean fiasco should serve as a stimulus to get American scientists cracking on their own plans for therapeutic cloning research, and on doing it right.

While they're at it, why not redo the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment with non-blacks?

The Long Road of Eugenics: From Rockefeller to Roe v. Wade (Rebecca Messall, 10/11/05, Human Life Review )

The infamous Roe v. Wade decision relies directly and indirectly on the work of members of the British and American eugenic societies and of eugenics- related groups and initiatives. The evidence that eugenics was a basis for Roe helps explain the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction between constitutional theory and current constitutional practice. The inscription on the U.S. Supreme Court building proclaims, “Equal Justice Under Law”— but eugenics is based on the premise that people are not equal, that some are lesser than others: particularly people who are disabled, but also people who are not white, or who are not well educated, or who are weakened by age or illness. In 1999, a Time magazine article described the 20th century as “cursed by eugenics”; in 2004, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., sponsored an exhibit about the Darwin-based eugenic theory behind the Nazis’ plans to breed a race of human thoroughbreds.

More than 30 years after Roe and 60 years after the Holocaust, the fact that eugenic theory has been an important basis for U.S. policy on reproductive rights continues to have global implications. American foreign policy today legitimizes groups that advocate abortion and other forms of population control in non-white countries. At the domestic level, abortion has had a disparate effect on African-Americans: The reduction in the number of black voters from the number that would have existed absent Roe has diluted their political voice. In 1996, U.S. News & World Report reported that “blacks, who make up 14 percent of all childbearing women, have 31 percent of all abortions, and whites, who account for 81 percent of women of childbearing age, have 61 percent.” In December 2003, the Centers for Disease Control reported that between 1980 and 2002 the African-American fertility rate per one thousand women had been cut from 84.9 to 65.8, while the fertility rate for whites moved down only slightly from 65.6 to 64.8 per one thousand women.

The Nazi Connection

U.S. abortion policy is visible in the American Eugenics Society’s 1956 membership records, which reveal that its members included a Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, and at least two of its presidents, William Vogt and Alan Guttmacher. This fact alone ought to give abortionrights advocates second thoughts about their pro-choice politics: The AES had an ugly history of multiple ties to prominent Nazis in Germany, and its members even assisted Hitler in crafting the 1933 German sterilization laws. The group retained, while Hitler was in power, top Nazi scientists—Drs. Rudin, Fischer, and Ruttke—as advisers and journal contributors. Among the AES members—after the Holocaust—was Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a co-director of the Rockefeller-funded Kaiser Wilhelm Eugenics Institute in Germany. Before 1940, Verschuer had founded the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Research at Frankfurt University, and retained Dr. Josef Mengele as his assistant. Verschuer had written a widely circulated paper in which he described the need for a “complete solution to the Jewish question.” At one point, he provided Mengele with a recommendation letter, which praised Mengele’s “reliability, combined background in anthropology and medicine, and capacity for clear verbal presentation of difficult intellectual problems.” It was Verschuer who made the fateful recommendation to Mengele that he request a transfer to Auschwitz, which offered a “unique possibility” for biological research. At Auschwitz, Mengele dissected people after they were tortured and killed, and sent his “research” to Verschuer. Before the Holocaust, the AES had lobbied successfully for the Johnson Act, the restrictive 1924 immigration law that— among other things—caused the steamship St. Louis to be refused entry to the U.S. in 1939; the ship returned to Europe, where many of the Jews aboard were killed.

The AES lobbied, with equal success, for involuntary-sterilization laws in the U.S., which were to claim an estimated 63,000 victims. The laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, which was cited in Roe. Some states—Oregon, Virginia, South Carolina, and California—have recently extended official regrets and/or apologies for those laws.

Blackmun, the Rockefellers, and Eugenics

Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s 1973 opinion in Roe is traceable to eugenics through his direct and indirect citations of works by members of the British and American eugenics societies. Among the other authorities he cited were lower federal court cases that expressly invoked overpopulation as a basis for legalizing abortion; projects and organizations tinged with eugenics, including the Rockefellers’ Kinsey-based Model Penal Code and the American Public Health Association, which was on record in favor of abortion as a form of population control; Justice Holmes’s Buck v. Bell decision; and Roe’s companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which effectively swept away the Model Penal Code’s state-by-state effort to liberalize abortion, thus realizing one of the stated aims of radical eugenic activists.

To interpret Roe, Buck v. Bell, and other Supreme Court cases as benchmarks in an organized political effort to establish a eugenic social vision for America may seem counterintuitive, considering current popular rhetoric emphasizing individual rights. But contemporary documents demonstrate the persistent popularity of eugenics among influential social figures and policymakers, which makes its incorporation into constitutional law less surprising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 17, 2005 8:52 AM

Herr Sulzberger:

"Zis Korean fiasco should serve as a stimulus to get zee Amerikaner scientists cracking on zeir own plans for therapeutik kloning research, and on doing zis right...but if not Amerika, zen perhaps Brazil!"

Worrying about "ethics" violations at a Fetus Factory is like worring about greenhouse emissions at Bergen-Belsen or cleanliness standards at a Soylent Green plant.

Posted by: Noel at December 17, 2005 4:24 PM