By Tina M. Kibbe
Happy New Year! As another year ends, I wanted to take a look at three news stories involving eugenics and genetics in 2013 that you may have missed.
By Adam Turner
The recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting that California prisons failed to follow proper procedures in getting full consent and approval before sterilizing nearly 150 female inmates is both tragic and all too familiar. It raises questions about both the government's role in controlling citizen's childbearing decisions and the degree to which consent can be fully informed and voluntary for less privileged members of society who are often already considered irresponsible and, as many of these women reported, made to feel like they were "less than human" or "bad mother[s]" for saying no. It also calls up memories of America's long history of eugenics, during which these sorts of actions would've not only been acceptable, but lauded.
By Tina M. Kibbe
A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) disclosed that physicians, under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, performed tubal ligations on nearly 150 female inmates while they were housed at two of the institutions under its authority. Between 2006 and 2010 148 women at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla were sterilized without the required state approval. The CIR reports that there may be as many as 100 additional women who were sterilized dating back to 1997. Moreover, some of the women at these institutions have claimed that they were coerced or badgered into having the sterilization procedure while they were pregnant. While some women were able to resist the pressure, others were not, and some stated that they were made to feel like they were “less than human” or “bad mother[s].”
By Adam Turner
Genetic counseling, as the previous two posts in this series suggest, has a lot to offer for navigating the tricky decisions things like prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis raise. Well, in this post I'd like to make things a little more complicated. Enter the sheer messiness of history. I still believe genetic counseling is the best approach we have right now for helping prospective parents with hard choices, but it has a complicated -- and not so distant -- past that continues to shape counselors' ways of interacting with clients.
Surprisingly, I have been asked that question on more than one occasion. I have had students ask me during class and once after a conference presentation. The last time I was confronted with this question was in my summer class, when an earnest young student asked, "If you take the racial prejudice out, what's wrong with eugenics?" The student continued to press his point: "What's wrong with a program that has the goal of improving the human race and now that genetics is so advanced, surely we could make sure that people have the best genes and traits. Wouldn't that make for a healthier, happier population?" Hmm. So much to think about here. A program that uses cutting edge science to improve the human race by ensuring that individuals have only the best genes or traits so that people will be healthy and happy? Indeed, what is so bad about that? Who can say, "NO" to having the best genes, being healthy, and being happy? This is precisely the reason why eugenics was fairly easy "to sell" in the early twentieth century. For the sake of brevity, let's set aside the vast complexity of the science of genetics and pretend that we could just pluck out the "bad" genes and insert the "good" ones on DNA strands so that in a few generations we might have a utopian world filled with people swimming in the luxurious, healthy, and happy waters of the "best" gene pool. At this point, I have two questions. What determines which genes or traits are the “best,” and in this program of improving the human race, who makes the determination of which ones are the best? Me? You? Or what about a panel of experts? Afterall, we are talking about using science and a panel of objective scientific experts seems like an appropriate choice to make these important decisions. Or is it? While we ponder that for a moment, let's take a look back.
Once upon a time (about two months ago) a group of academics/activists got together to start Nursing Clio, a collaborative blog project that aimed to engage with historical scholarship as a means to contextualize present-day political, social, and cultural issues surrounding gender and medicine. To be honest with you, dear readers (all 5 of you), in the planning stages I sometimes doubted whether we would have enough present-day material to continue the blog past the first month. What if we ran out of material? What if we said everything we needed to say? I made sure to make a list of emergency blog post ideas just in case we got desperate.
As it turns out, we have never once had to break into the emergency blog post survival kit. Between the North Carolina preacher who invoked the Holocaust in an anti-gay sermon, to the continuing War on Women, to the new movie Hysteria – our gender, medicine, and history cup runneth over, my friends.