Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, and Brave New Worlds

This is the first of three panel discussions at the Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, and Brave New Worlds symposium hosted by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. This panel covers the WHAT? giving an overview of the symposium’s focus: the history of eugenics movements in North America, and why they are disturbingly relevant today.

Presenters: Alexandra Minna Stern, Marcy Darnovsky, Glenn Sinclair, Nicola Fairbrother

If you are interested in watching more panels from this symposium, please visit:

Forced Sterilization of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Australia: The WWDA submission

In November, I posted on the Australian Senate Inquiry into the forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities.  Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has just made its powerful, eye-opening submission to the Inquiry.  And there’s something you can do, pronto, that may make a difference here: endorse or support the submission.  Anyone who thinks that forced sterilization is a “thing of the past” shoudl read this submission.  First, from the submission (p.20),

There is a historical precedent in several countries including for example the USA (until the 1950s), in Canada and Sweden (until the 1970s), and Japan (until 1996) indicating that torture of women and girls with disabilities by sterilisation occurred on a collective scale – that is, mass forced sterilisation. This policy was rationalised by a pseudo-scientific theory called eugenics – the aim being the eradication of a wide range of social problems by preventing those with ‘physical, mental or social problems’ from reproducing.  Although eugenic policies have now been erased from legal statutes in most countries, vestiges still remain within some areas of the legal and medical establishments and within the attitudes of some sectors of the community:

Students Fight to Include Difficult History in California Schools

from Facing History; you might also want to check out their publication for schools on eugenics here:

March 8, 2013

In San Francisco, a group of Facing History and Ourselves students is spearheading a movement that could change public high school history classes for generations of future California teens. Their goal: to include California’s history with eugenics and sterilization in the state’s public high school curricula.  To read more, see the original post.

Pride Week Panel on Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality

Here’s the poster for the upcoming panel, Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality that we’re hosting this Wednesday as part of the U of Alberta’s Pride Week.  The sesssion will feature Lise Gotell and Lane Mandlis as speakers, with Moyra Lang and Rob Wilson performing an interpretative dance (ok, perhaps not, … but we’ll do something useful … or at least will be there).  Please print and post, or distribute electronically.  Text only version included as well.

Pride Week Eugenics Panel Poster

Pride Week Eugenics Panel Text

Rick Santorum and prenatal screening

For those that missed the controversy, towards the end of February Rick Santorum (current candidate for the Republican presidential leadership bid) argued that,  ” a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.” His argument was roughly as follows: since prenatal screening leads to an increase in abortions, and since abortion is morally reprehensible, the morality of prenatal screening should also be considered. He was also, however, making the point that prenatal screening leads to a new form of eugenics — one that targets a fetus which exhibits abnormalities and deformities which are deemed undesirable. These arguments set off a firestorm of controversy.

Emily Rapp wrote a reply, “Rick Santorum, Meet my Son”, in which she claims that if she had determined that her son would have been born with Tay-Sachs (as he was), that she would have chose to abort her fetus.

 If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision.

But it seems like both sides are talking passed each-other a bit here. It seems necessary to recognize the potential dangers for a form of newgenics — something that can be informed by our understanding of the history of eugenics, and the ways in which new technologies can reassert these tendencies. But it also seems necessary to recognize the potential value of pre-natal screening technologies, and to recognize the very real pain that diseases like Tay-Sachs impart on the child.