Helen Keller was both deaf and blind, yet she was one! Marie Stopes disinherited her son for marrying a ‘short-sighted’ bride. Stopes was one, too! As were H.G.Wells, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Adolf Hitler and William Beveridge. They were firm supporters of the Eugenics Movement. Keller’s opinion being that: A panel of doctors should decide whether or not a ‘defective’ baby should live or be killed. Most of us would recoil in horror at this.
From 1883, Francis Galton focussed minds on the practicalities of ‘eugenics’. Worldwide, millions of people, many in positions of power and influence, coalesced around the rebranding of old ideas and latent prejudices, bringing practical eugenics into the mainstream. The ethos of eugenics was, to improve the quality of the human species by encouraging those deemed to be healthy in mind and body to have many children and discourage or prevent those categorised as being ‘poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and racial groups (such as the Roma and Jews in Nazi Germany) as ‘degenerate’ or ‘unfit’, from reproducing. In countries large and small, from about 1880 until 1945, the disabled – mentally, physically and with learning difficulties – were treated as sub-human, persecuted and institutionalised. The Fabian Society was a socialist, left-leaning movement, it promoted democratic socialism. It too succumbed to some of the principles of eugenics.
By 1907, the forced sterilisation of women from the lower social classes was lawful in 30 American states. Organised eugenics swept the globe. It reached its high watermark in about 1940. In America, the final forced sterilisation took place in 1981.
William Beveridge was one of my heroes. His 1942 Report, led to the foundation of the Welfare State. A man of the people and living for a time in Newton Aycliffe. He was one of ours! Popm went that bubble upon learning that he was a lifelong proponent of eugenics. He said: ‘Those men who through general defects… (become)… dependents of the State… (should have)… complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights – including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood’.
On the evening that the Commons were debating his recommendations (in the Lords’ Chamber) that would become known as the Beveridge Report, he sat listening to the debate. Right? Wrong! He slipped nervously out of Parliament to address eugenicists at The Mansion House. His recommendation that the new ‘Family Allowance’ be graduated – giving MORE to middle-class families and LESS to poorer families – had been amended so that all got a flat rate. Somewhat deflated, he told his fellow eugenicists that this would still favour the middle-classes. Many were far from convinced. In conclusion, the disabled, as with other highlighted groups, are notionally legally protected by the 2010 Equality Act. But can the shadow of Eugenics ever be far away, when the legal rights enshrined within the 2010 Equality Act are on a daily basis flouted or ignored?
Derek G Atkinson.