Eugenics Undefended

  • Robert A. WilsonEmail author

My thinking about eugenics for the past decade has drawn both on my experiences in working together with a relatively small number of eugenics survivors in the Canadian province of Alberta, where eugenic sexual sterilization legislation was in place until 1972 (Wilson 2018a), as well as on a broad range of works by historians, biologists, sociologists, philosophers, bioethicists, and journalists. Central to that thinking has been reflection on the contemporary significance of the eugenic past and on the continuing power of diverse forms of eugenic thinking (Wilson 2018b, 2019). I thus read with interest a freely-available version of “Defending Eugenics” early in 2018, although I was very surprised to see a minimally modified version of the paper appear shortly thereafter in this journal.

The author is certainly correct to suggest that there are aspects to eugenics that remain attractive to many and are perhaps even philosophically defensible. That is why some leading figures in ethics...



  1. Ambler, J. 2014. Immigration. Retrieved 2 Jan 2019.
  2. Anomaly, J. 2014. Genes, Race, and the Ethics of Belief. Hastings Center Report (Sept-Oct 2014), 50–51.Google Scholar
  3. Anomaly, J. 2018. Defending Eugenics: From Cryptic Choice to Conscious Selection. Monash Bioethics Review 35: 24–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asch, A. 2003. Disability Equality and Prenatal Testing: Contradictory or Compatible? Florida State University Law Review 30 (2): 315–342.Google Scholar
  5. Barker, M.J., and R.A. Wilson. 2019. Well-Being, Disability, and Choosing Children. Mind 128: 305–328. Scholar
  6. Brock, D. 2005. Preventing Genetically Transmitted Disabilitis while Respecting Persons with Disabilities. In Quality of Life and Human Difference edited by D. Wasserman, J. Bickenbach, and R. Wachbroit, 67–100. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bruinius, H. 2006. Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity. New York: Alfred J. Knopf.Google Scholar
  8. Buchanan, A., D. Brock, N. Daniels, and D. Wikler. 2000. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Charney, E. 2012. Behavior Genetics and Postgenomics. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35 (5): 331–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cochran, G., J. Hardy, and H. Harpending. 2006. Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5): 659–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cochran, G., and H. Harpending. 2009. The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, A. 2016. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York: Penguin USA.Google Scholar
  13. Duster, Troy. 2003. Backdoor to Eugenics. New York: Routledge. (first edition 1990).Google Scholar
  14. Evans, G. 2018. The Unwelcome Revival of ‘Race Science’. The Guardian 2nd March, 2018.
  15. Ferguson, R.B. 2008. How Jews Became Smart: Anti- ‘Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence’. Available from
  16. Galton, F. 1908. Race Improvement. In his Memories of My Life, 310-323. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  17. Gilman, S.L. 2008. Are Jews Smarter than Everyone Else? In: Medicine, Mental Health, Science, Religion, and Well-Being (A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh eds.). Mens Sana Monographs 6 (1): 41–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glover, J. 2006. Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Goering, Sarah. 2014. Eugenics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta.
  20. Janis, I. 1972. Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  21. Kaplan, J. 2006. Misinformation, Misrepresentation, and Misuse of Human Behavioral Genetics Research. Law and Contemporary Problems 69: 47–80.Google Scholar
  22. Kevles, D. 1985. In the Name of Eugenics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lewontin, R. 1972. The Apportionment of Human Diversity. Evolutionary Biology 6: 381–398.Google Scholar
  24. Lombardo, P. 2008. Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck vs Bell. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Parens, E. and Asch, A. 1999. Disability Rights Critique of Prenatal Genetic Testing: Reflections and Recommendations. Hastings Center Report, Sept-Oct 1999, S1-22. Reprinted in E. Parens and A. Asch (Eds.), Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, 3–43. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Rafter, N. 1988. White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies 1977-1919. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Rafter, N. 1997. Creating Born Criminals. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  28. Savulescu, J. 2001. Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children. Bioethics 15 (5/6): 413–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Savulescu, J., and G. Kahane. 2009. The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life. Bioethics 23 (5): 274–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Saxton, M. 2000. Why Members of the Disability Community Oppose Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion. In Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, ed. E. Parens and A. Asch, 147–164. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Tabery, J. 2014. Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Turkheimer, E., and K.P. Harden. 2014. Behavior Genetic Research Methods: Testing Quasi-Causal Hypotheses with Multivariate Twin Data. In Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology, ed. H.T. Reis and C.M. Judd, 159–187. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wade, N. 2014. A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  34. Wahlsten, D. 1990. Insensitivity of the Analysis of Variance to Heredity-Environment Interaction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 (1): 109–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wasserman, D. 2009. Ethical Constraints on Allowing or Causing the Existence of PEOPLE with Disabilities. In Disability and Disadvantage, edited by Kimberley Brownless and Adam Cureton, 319–351. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Wilson, R.A. 2018a. The Eugenic Mind Project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Wilson, R.A. 2018b. “Eugenics Never Went Away”, Aeon Magazine.
  38. Wilson, R.A. 2019. The Staying Power of Eugenic Dehumanization. In Routledge Handbook on Dehumanization, ed. M. Kronfeldner. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Wilson, R.A., and J. St Pierre. 2016. Eugenics and Disability. In Rethinking Disability: World Perspectives in Culture and Society, ed. P. Devlieger, B. Mirandaa-Galarza, S. Brown, and M. Strickfaden, 93–112. Antwerp: Garant Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Monash University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics, Media, and Philosophy, 325 Social SciencesLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations