"It is clear that modern medicine has created a serious dilemma ... In past, there were many children who never survived - they succumbed to various diseases ... But in a sense modern medicine has put natural selection out of commission. Something that has helped one individual over a serious illness can in long run contribute to weakening resistance of whole human race to certain diseases. If we pay absolutely no attention to what is called hereditary hygiene, we could find ourselves facing a degeneration of human race. Mankind's hereditary potential for resisting serious disease will be weakened."
Jostein Gaarder in "Sophie's World", a bestselling philosophy textbook for adolescents published in Oslo, Norway, in 1991 and, afterwards, throughout world, having been translated to dozens of languages.
The Nazis regarded murder of feeble-minded and mentally insane - intended to purify race and maintain hereditary hygiene - as a form of euthanasia. German doctors were enthusiastic proponents of an eugenics movements rooted in 19th century social Darwinism. Luke Gormally writes, in his essay "Walton, Davies, and Boyd" (published in "Euthanasia Examined - Ethical, Clinical, and Legal Perspectives", ed. John Keown, Cambridge University Press, 1995):
"When jurist Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche published their tract The Permission to Destroy Life that is Not Worth Living in 1920 ... their motive was to rid society of 'human ballast and enormous economic burden' of care for mentally ill, handicapped, retarded and deformed children, and incurably ill. But reason they invoked to justify killing of human beings who fell into these categories was that lives of such human beings were 'not worth living', were 'devoid of value'"
It is this association with hideous Nazi regime that gave eugenics - a term coined by a relative of Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton, in 1883 - its bad name. Richard Lynn, of University of Ulster of North Ireland, thinks that this recoil resulted in "Dysgenics - genetic deterioration of modern (human) population", as title of his controversial tome puts it.
The crux of argument for eugenics is that a host of technological, cultural, and social developments conspired to give rise to negative selection of weakest, least intelligent, sickest, habitually criminal, sexually deviant, mentally-ill, and least adapted.
Contraception is more widely used by affluent and well-educated than by destitute and dull. Birth control as practiced in places like China distorted both sex distribution in cities - and increased weight of rural population (rural couples in China are allowed to have two children rather than urban one).
Modern medicine and welfare state collaborate in sustaining alive individuals - mainly mentally retarded, mentally ill, sick, and genetically defective - who would otherwise have been culled by natural selection to betterment of entire species.
Eugenics may be based on a literal understanding of Darwin's metaphor.
The 2002 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say:
"Darwin's description of process of natural selection as survival of fittest in struggle for life is a metaphor. 'Struggle' does not necessarily mean contention, strife, or combat; 'survival' does not mean that ravages of death are needed to make selection effective; and 'fittest' is virtually never a single optimal genotype but rather an array of genotypes that collectively enhance population survival rather than extinction. All these considerations are most apposite to consideration of natural selection in humans. Decreasing infant and childhood mortality rates do not necessarily mean that natural selection in human species no longer operates. Theoretically, natural selection could be very effective if all children born reached maturity. Two conditions are needed to make this theoretical possibility realized: first, variation in number of children per family and, second, variation correlated with genetic properties of parents. Neither of these conditions is farfetched."
The eugenics debate is only visible extremity of Man vs. Nature conundrum. Have we truly conquered nature and extracted ourselves from its determinism? Have we graduated from natural to cultural evolution, from natural to artificial selection, and from genes to memes?
Does evolutionary process culminate in a being that transcends its genetic baggage, that programs and charts its future, and that allows its weakest and sickest to survive? Supplanting imperative of survival of fittest with a culturally-sensitive principle may be hallmark of a successful evolution, rather than beginning of an inexorable decline.
The eugenics movement turns this argument on its head. They accept premise that contribution of natural selection to makeup of future human generations is glacial and negligible. But they reject conclusion that, having ridden ourselves of its tyranny, we can now let weak and sick among us survive and multiply. Rather, they propose to replace natural selection with eugenics.
But who, by which authority, and according to what guidelines will administer this man-made culling and decide who is to live and who is to die, who is to breed and who may not? Why select by intelligence and not by courtesy or altruism or church-going - or al of them together? It is here that eugenics fails miserably. Should criterion be physical, like in ancient Sparta? Should it be mental? Should IQ determine one's fate - or social status or wealth? Different answers yield disparate eugenic programs and target dissimilar groups in population.
Aren't eugenic criteria liable to be unduly influenced by fashion and cultural bias? Can we agree on a universal eugenic agenda in a world as ethnically and culturally diverse as ours? If we do get it wrong - and chances are overwhelming - will we not damage our gene pool irreparably and, with it, future of our species?
And even if many will avoid a slippery slope leading from eugenics to active extermination of "inferior" groups in general population - can we guarantee that everyone will? How to prevent eugenics from being appropriated by an intrusive, authoritarian, or even murderous state?