Tommy Douglas, young eugenicist

from The National Post, by Michael Shevell

This NP article is itself taken from a longer article in the January 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.

Though bespectacled and slight of build, Tommy Douglas is a giant of 20th Century Canadian history. His iconic, indeed mythic, status within the Canadian historical landscape is exemplified by his selection, in 2004, as “The Greatest Canadian” in a CBC-mandated competition above such luminaries as former Prime Ministers Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Lester Bowles Pearson, scientist Frederick Banting, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. This honour reflects Douglas’ role as the “father” of Canadian Medicare, which has emerged, for better or worse, as a defining feature of a Canadian national identity.

Medicare has in effect emerged as a statement of national values. Values that include compassion, fairness, tolerance and equality; values that are not selectively applied, but are extended to embrace even the most vulnerable of Canadians.

Eugenics, by contrast, concerns itself at its most fundamental level with the selective breeding of humanity to improve the human species. At a practical level, eugenics in the 20th century involved the removal from the gene pool by various means those classes of individuals considered “inferior stock,” whose deficits had an inherited basis that was immutable for future generations. These classes included those suffering from mental illness, intellectual disability or what was characterized as social diseases (e.g, alcoholism, delinquency).

The broad principles of universal-access medicare contradict those that can be utilized to justify the practice of eugenics. It would be paradoxical for an individual to support both. Yet Tommy Douglas did so with moral persuasion. Careful analysis of this contradiction reveals with hindsight further paradoxes that merit consideration. … read more

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