Perilous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics

Some might be interested in a conference session being held in Sydney, Australia this year titled Perlous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics. The session, which takes place July 12-14, will be part of the Together<>Apart conference—a conference which focuses “on the very broad idea of relations and relationships as well as allied terms such as collaborations, networks and partnerships.”

More about the conference can be found here.

And the abstract for the Perilous Relations session can be found after the break. 

Perilous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics

Associate Professor Fae Brauer, The University of New South Wales

Associate Professor Anne Maxwell, The University of Melbourne

While recent histories of eugenics have exposed how extensively marriage

legislation, segregation and sterilization were institutionalized by modern nation states,

few have explored how eugenics functioned more subtly and insidiously through their

relationship to the art and culture of the body. Although posited as practices that

occurred separately from one another, by no means were they autonomous, let alone

innocuous. When viewed through the lens of Michel Foucault’s biopower, bioaesthetics

appeared to have acted as the perfect partner for inculcating eugenics in Australia, North

and South America, Britain, China, Japan and Europe – from France and Italy to

Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Turkey. Their mutually endorsing

and enhancing partnership was manifest by the absorption of eugenics into body cultures

and conversely, body cultures into Eugenic Societies, as demonstrated by Eugen Sandow’s

physical culture in Britain, La Culture Physique of Edmond Desbonnet in France, Belgium

and Switzerland, Bernarr McFadden’s Physical Culture Schools in America, and The Dupain

Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics opened in Sydney by George

Dupain. Their clandestine relationship was disclosed by the paintings and sculptures

portraying the fit body in International Eugenic Conferences and Exhibitions, Natural

History Museums, the Darwin Museum in Moscow, the German Hygiene Museum in

Dresden and the Great German Art Exhibitions.

By focusing upon these manifestations, this conference session seeks to illuminate

how eugenics was able to function as a bioaesthetic that was implicit not explicit,

dissuasive not didactic and, following Foucault’s theory of “docile bodies”, unofficial,

insidious and coercive. In unravelling the binary spawned between the eugenically

aestheticized body and the physiologically impaired one, as well as the “feeble-minded”,

ethnic minorities and indigenous people, this session also seeks to expose some of the

dire ramifications of these perilous relations.

2 thoughts on “Perilous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics


    Australian paper says Euthanizing Babies should be Allowed as Abortion

    Posted by EU Times on Mar 3rd, 2012

    A paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues that abortion should be extended to make the killing of newborn babies permissible, even if the baby is perfectly healthy, in a shocking example of how the medical establishment is still dominated by a vicious mindset.

    The paper is authored by Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

    The authors argue that “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,” and that because abortion is allowed even when there is no problem with the fetus’ health, “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

    “The fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant,” the authors claim, arguing that adoption is not a reasonable counter-argument because the parents of the baby might be economically or psychologically burdened the process and the mother may “suffer psychological distress”. How the mother could not also “suffer psychological distress” by having her newborn baby killed is not explained.

    “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal,” the authors write.

    The practice of infanticide has its origins in barbaric eras of ancient history, but it is still common is many areas of the world today, including China where the one child policy allied with the social pressure to have boys has resulted in a massive imbalance in the population. Studies have found that 40 million girls are ‘missing’ in China as a result of gender-selective abortion and infanticide. In India, there are 50 million less females for the same reasons.

    In Pakistan, over 1000 babies a year are the victims of infanticide, which is rarely punished.

    Matthew Archbold of the National Catholic Register explains how the legalization of infanticide, killing newborn babies, is the logical conclusion of the starting point of the argument, which is that the fetus is not human and has no right to live.

    “The second we allow ourselves to become the arbiters of who is human and who isn’t, this is the calamitous yet inevitable end. Once you say all human life is not sacred, the rest is just drawing random lines in the sand,” he writes.

    Respected bioethicist Wesley J. Smith notes that the debate surrounding “the right to dehydrate the persistently unconscious,” which eventually led to events like the Terri Schiavo case, started with articles in bioethics and medical journals.

    “Or to put it another way, too often bioethics, isn’t. On the other hand, to be fair, the ancient Romans exposed inconvenient infants on hills. These authors may want to take us back to those crass values, but I assume they would urge a quicker death,” he writes.

  2. Ethicist gets hate mail

    CATHY O’LEARY MEDICAL EDITOR, The West AustralianMarch 1, 2012, 5:41 am


    A Melbourne academic has triggered an ethical storm by suggesting it is acceptable to kill newborns in so-called after-birth abortions if parents do not want them.

    Ethicist Francesca Minerva said yesterday that she had received hate mail since a provocative article she co-wrote with Dr Alberto Giubilini appeared online.

    They argued after-birth abortion should be allowed in cases when abortion would be permitted, including if a child had a defect such as Down syndrome.

    Even in cases where the baby was born perfectly healthy, parents should have the right to end the life of the child if their own wellbeing was at risk.

    The researchers said a newborn baby and a foetus were “morally equivalent” and both were “potential people”.

    “If criteria such as the social, psychological and economic costs for potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the foetus is healthy…then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is as the stage of a newborn, they said.

    Adopting out an unwanted baby was not necessarily a solution because the mother might suffer psychological distress from giving up her child for adoption.

    Dr Minerva said the article was not intended for public debate but rather for discussion among bioethicists.

    “This debate has been going on for 30 years,” she said.

    The BMJ Group said the researchers had been subjected to personal abuse, including threats to their lives.

    It said the concept of infanticide was not new and the researchers had made an argument that deserved to be heard without receiving hostile abuse.
    Catholic Respect Life executive officer Bronia Karniewicz said the argument that killing a healthy baby rather than putting them up for adoption because it might better benefit the parents was disturbing.

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