Full text: Problems in eugenics

F. Houssay.Practical Eugenics.i59 
contests, for the improvement of the breed of domestic animals, ought 
assuredly to be taken into account as a valuable potential contributor to the 
improvement of the humankind considered as a whole. 
In this latter case the only question which can be raised and discussed 
is that of the right of society to intervene in such a matter. Persuasive 
intervention at least could not be considered illegitimate, and could only 
be combated by contrary persuasion. But persuasion would doubtless be 
of little effect in cases of advanced degeneracy accompanied by incurable 
pauperism, which no assistance can remedy, and sometimes by a state of 
habitual profligacy or criminality. 
In these circumstances enforced sterilization, if its value as a social 
preservative is sufficiently established, is only a special aspect of the right 
to punish. This, in fact, is neither in the nature of vengeance nor retalia­ 
tion ; its legitimacy rests entirely on the elemental need of society for self- 
preservation and for the extinction of focuses of contamination, whose exten­ 
sion and spread would imperil higher civilisation and even society itself. 
Now, this right to punish is not combated in the name of an abstract 
logic, which forgets human and social realities, except by an insignificant 
minority. In spite of the efforts of thinkers, whose hearts are stronger than 
their heads, the majority of civilized states have maintained their right 
to punish inclusive of the penalty of death; some of them have replaced this 
by perpetual and complete seclusion, which seems a penalty worse than that 
which it replaces« But whichever way we choose, by death or seclusion, 
the condemned man is cut off from the social body and his lineage extin­ 
guished at a stroke. 
The extinction of descendants by sterilization is evidently a penalty less 
than the preceding, since, in place of the suppression of natural or social 
life, we have here only a morphological and physiological limitation of it, 
which can be effected without pain. It seems, consequently, permissible to 
extend its use to more numerous cases of less severity and less clamorous 
menace to society. 
Moreover, in the actual state of human psychology, which we must 
carefully cherish, this penalty would be considered as more degrading and 
humiliating than death on the public scaffold, with its accompaniments of 
photographer and cinematograph. It would be equally, and at less expense, 
a salutary example and a deterrent for the restraint of those who are on 
the border line of defectiveness, and in whose case a voluntary effort might 
prevent lapse. 
Artificial selection, whose legitimacy we thus discuss in the abstract, 
can moreover be justified in another way, if one considers that it would come 
about all the same, a little later, without any social interference, by the 
simple fact that the offspring of defectives or degenerates undergo spon­ 
taneous extinction, in a few generations, by premature death of children or 
by ordinary infertility. Artificial selection, as suggested by Eugenics, is

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