Sunday, October 09, 2005

Relieved That Indiana Won't Embarrass Itself Again

A featured guest columnist in the Indianapolis Star today by IU health historian, Ruth Clifford Engs, reminds us that Senator Pat Miller’s recent efforts to ban unmarried women, gays and lesbians from using assisted reproduction techniques to have children has an all too familiar smack of “classical negative eugenics.” Engs said, “I was concerned that Indiana was again going to lead the nation with the first negative eugenics law of the modern technological world."

Engs notes that “Indiana has the ‘distinction’ of being the first place in the world to pass a eugenics sterilization law.” In 1907, Dr. Harry Sharp, a leader in the Indiana State Medical Society, convinced the Indiana General Assembly to enact the first sterilization law to “prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists” Engs informs us. “Negative eugenics”, she explains, “is the prevention, through legislation or social pressure, of certain groups of people considered not worthy or reproducing from having children.” The “unfit” to reproduce in the early half of the 20th century included “homosexuals, criminals, epileptics, chronic alcoholic, idiots and the feeble minded.” Engs said the “feeble minded”, a catch-all phrase, included women who had illegitimate children.

Engs points out that at the same time, positive eugenics was being practiced “to encourage, healthy, middle class protestant individuals from Northern European backgrounds to reproduce.” The protestant majority, you see, feared “race suicide” because these “desirable people” were having fewer people than less desired immigrants, including Jews and Catholics, and the poor and minority groups. As if the original 1907 law wasn’t bad enough, in 1931 another law Engs writes was “passed that required a family member who was applying to commit [an undesirable] to have a physician certify to the court whether the applicant’s debility was due to bad genes.” Fortunately, these laws eventually fell to the wayside as a result of court decisions and changing public attitudes.

Engs concludes: “Yes, it is important for children to grow up in warm, loving and secure family situations. Passing laws that harm people simply because some disapprove of their values or lifestyles does nothing to improve the heath and welfare of Hoosier children and harkens to a darker period of Indiana history . . . [Miller’s proposal] was never about the children.” Senator Miller please take note.

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