Proper Use Of Eugenics

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Imagine a world where no one has chronic diseases. No babies die of genetic diseases within a year of being born. Imagine a world where the government dictates who can reproduce. A world where those with mental afflictions or physical disabilities are sterilized. Some of these statements elicit feelings of joy and progress, while others bring up feelings of unease and bigotry. This paper will cover the positive and negative aspects of Eugenics as well as the modern and proper use of Eugenics.

Eugenics is the science of improving the human population by removing undesirable traits by selective breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable traits. Eugenics has become almost a taboo in the medical field because of the science’s past. Eugenics was used to mask bigotry when it was first created. The belief that the majority of social issues were due to biological heredity created the ‘need’ for Eugenics in America during the early 1900s. American eugenicists believed that traits like promiscuity, criminality, alcoholism, poverty, insanity, feeblemindedness, and other ‘undesirable’ traits were inherited and could be eradicated by eugenics. Most eugenicists during this time believed six core ideas. The first being that “degenerate characteristics were genetically inherited” and were the products of “nature not nurture” (Selgelid, 2014, pg 4). The second is that these characteristics were more often found in lower class individuals. The third idea was that the lower classes reproduced faster and more abundantly than the ‘superior’ classes. The fourth and fifth ideas are that the “growing number of misfits imposed large financial burdens on society” and that the relief measures provided were counterproductive. Lastly, most early eugenics believed that the “improvements in medicine and public health had the dysgenic effect of facilitating survival and reproduction of the unfit” (Selgelid, pg 4). This means that the improvements in medicine made it easier and safer for ‘undesirable” people to procreate. These ideals portrayed themselves in violent and unjust laws.

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These laws include marriage restrictions which 30 states had enacted by 1914. These laws “voided the marriages of idiots and insane and/or restricted marriage among the unfit of various types, including the feebleminded and person afflicted with venereal disease” (Selgelid, pg 5). ‘Feeblemindedness’ is a term that comes up many times in the articles researched, it is a board term to refer to anyone with a mental defect. There were laws that also implemented the mandatory segeration of persons with mental defects, stating they had to be put into institutions. These institutions stripped all individual rights from the people placed in them, they were sterilized with or without their knowledge, abused or neglected, and in some cases had invasive experiments performed on them. Sterilization laws were also passed that mandated the sterilization of “habitual criminals, sexual offenders, drug addicts, the insane or idiots in institutions” (Selgelid, pg 5). These laws were often bias against race, class and other disenfranchised groups. The history of eugenics is so deeply ingrained that even in 2014 when there was an expansion of “Medicaid in many states and other components of Affordable Care Act granting free or low-cost access to prenatal genetic analysis” people were still wary of the intent of the reform (Asbury, 2014, pg 2). Poor, black women were the target of this expansion as they had not had much access to genetic testing in past years. Due to the history of eugenics and the “hostility toward black reproduction that characterized reproductive medicine for much of the twentieth century” the author states that one must question the quality and nature of the consulting poor, black women will receive (Asbury, pg 2). The fear is that this will lead to the implementation of ‘eugenics by the back door’ which is the termination of a defective fetus in order to control human heredity. The author believes that poor, black women will be wrongfully coerced or given inadequate information in order to influence them to terminate a pregnancy thus achieving eugenics by the back door. This article proves that the idea of eugenics must be reformed properly in order to be seen as modern and useful science.

It is important to recognize not all early eugenicists focused on negative eugenics which is the aim of “decreasing the frequency of undesirable traits in the population by decreasing the reproduction of defective individuals” (Selgelid, pg 4). A small number of early eugenicists focused on positive eugenics which is the idea of increasing reproduction of gifted individuals of society. One of these eugenicists was Herbert Brewer, Brewer believed that eugenics and socialism go together. He stated that “if wealth were distributed more fairly, a lot of mental and physical illness would disappear” (Redvaldsen, 2014, pg 152). Brewer was an advocate of evening the playing field. Brewer believed in penectogenesis, later called in vitro fertilization. This would allow ‘less desirable individuals’ to have a baby with desirable traits. He gave up on this idea because he believed it was not technically possible and he did not believe couples would want to procreate in that manner.

In the modern age, scientists are attempting to make eugenics a positive science by distancing themselves from the bigotry ideals that were implemented into the science previously. Fetal genetic testing is considered a form of eugenics. Due to the testing of the fetus, a mother can decide to selectively abort a fetus that has a genetic defect. Selective abortion is becoming more and more common as parents do not want to burden their child with a genetic condition that can lead to a short, painful life. For those who are opposed to abortion for religious reasons can partake in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) this “involves the testing of embryos produced during in virto fertilization therapy” (Selgelid, pg 6). This provides the option for genetic testing prior to being implanted in the mother’s uterus. Since both of these concepts decide who gets born they should be considered eugenics and shows the eugenics is not something to fear.

Clearly, the negative aspects of eugenics revolve around bigotry and infringing upon individual rights. As long as though aspects are separated from modern eugenics the science can provide immense benefits to society. Modern eugenics can save parents from the pain of having a child inflicted with a deadly genetic condition and make pregnancy less stressful for mothers who are at risk of passing on a genetic condition. To ensure eugenics never backtracks into the old format laws must be in place that all genetic testing is voluntary and that if a genetic condition is found it is solely the parents to decide to terminate or keep the child. It is also vital that genetic counselors are thoroughly vetted to ensure they give all people - regardless of race, class or education level - the same amount of information, resources, and support. Only after these steps are done can eugenics be seen in a positive light.


  1. Asbury, B. D. (2015). Backdoor to eugenics the risks of prenatal diagnosis for poor, black women. Duke Journal of Gender Law Policy 23(1), 1-24
  2. Redvaldsen, D. (2014, June 26). Eugenics, socialism and artificial insemination: The public career of Herbert Brewer.
  3. Selgelid, M. J. (2014). Moderate eugenics and human enhancement. Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, 17(1), 3-12. doi:
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Proper Use Of Eugenics. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from
“Proper Use Of Eugenics.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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