Human eugenics

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Discriminatory improvement of racial purity
Selective human breeding

Practices leading to human racial improvement based on judicious mating, ensuring that some attributes (selected as superior) prevail, and taking measures to prevent the dilution of the improved stock by those carrying attributes identified as qualitatively inferior.


At least since the time of Plato, individuals whose natural endowments seemed to equip them less well for success in society, e.g. the chronically ill or the mental disabled, have been discouraged by custom and law from having children. The desire for both negative eugenics (discouraging parenthood among the inferior) and positive eugenics (rewarding childbearing among the most healthy or intelligent) has been around for a long time. It was only in the late 19th century that programmes based on systematic, current scientific principles were suggested. In 1883 the British physician Sir Francis Galton coined the term "eugenics" to describe the study aimed as improving the human race by judiciously matching parents with superior traits. Galton focused on intelligence and his followers proposed that criminality, poverty, alcoholism, prostitution and other undesirable traits could be eliminated through eugenics. In the USA from 1905 until the 1930's a variety of state laws were enacted to prevent the "feeble minded", epileptics, the mentally ill, the retarded and many other types of people with undesirable traits from reproducing. People of different racial backgrounds were forbidden to marry, certain ethnic groups were not allowed to immigrate. Government papers declassified in 1992 indicate that in 1910 in the UK Winston Churchill wanted forcibly to sterilize more than 100,000 people he described as mentally degenerate. As Home Secretary his plan would have resulted in tens of thousands of others being sent to labour camps. This policy of social eugenics was supported by arguments that feeble-mindedness is only one stage of a disease that begins with migraine and epilepsy and ends with insanity and dementia. The people affected were seen as making up the class of "criminals, paupers and unemployables, prostitutes and ne'er do wells" that formed "a very considerable proportion, if not the whole, of the social failures who actually impede the advance of the nation". Furthermore these people were seen as breeding almost twice as fast as the national average, creating a situation for the nation in which the "preponderance of citizens lacking in the intellectual and physical vigour which is absolutely essential to progress" and which therefore "must inevitably end in national destruction". Hence the vital importance of having social laws to ensure that the unfit did not propagate and interbreed, rather than being kept alive by the state. The threat of such degeneracy was seen as a great social evil that needed to be stemmed. In 1933 Adolf Hitler promulgated the Eugenic Sterilization Law in Germany.


Governments continue to adopt policies with eugenic objectives. In Singapore, the government has actively encouraged the academically educated members of the population to increase the number of their children. In Romania, under the Ceausescu regime, women were obliged to have extra children, of whom some were separated from their parents at a very early age for a special upbringing within state orphanages. In 1993 China envisaged using abortion and sterilization to "avoid new births of inferior quality and heighten the standards of the whole population". Marriage was to be forbidden to those with hepatitis, venereal disease or hereditary mental illness. Termination of pregnancies would be recommended in the case of certain infectious diseases or abnormal foetal development. China estimates that from 300,000 to 460,000 congenitally disabled children are born each year.

Racial impurity
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
27.04.2020 – 18:37 CEST