“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Kallikak Family

I have been gradually collecting old and pivotal books in the field of special education. I recently purchased The Kallikak family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness, by Henry H. Goddard. The book traces the offspring of one Martin Kallikak (not his real name) over many generations. Apparently Martin had a sexual encounter with a New Jersey barmaid during the revolutionary war, and then later married a "respectable" woman. The offspring of Martin and the two women are compared over time.

Published in 1912, the book embraces notions of eugenics as they relate to "morons" the term used for persons with mild to moderate learning disabilities at the time. It also predates World War 2, so we see eugenics as it relates to disability, without the memory or lessons of Nazi Germany in the background. Here are a few quotes from Goddard.
A great majority, however, having no such interested or capable relatives, become at once a direct burden upon society. These divide according to temperament into two groups. Those who are phlegmatic, sluggish, indolent, simply lie down and would starve to death, if some one did not help them. When they come to the attention of our charitable organizations, they are picked up and sent to the almshouse, if they cannot be made to work. The other type is of the nervous, excitable, irritable kind who try to make a living and not being able to do it by a fair day's work and honest wages, attempt to succeed through dishonest methods.

From all of this the one caution follows. At best, sterilization is not likely to be a final solution of this problem. We may, and indeed I believe must, use it as a help, as something that will contribute toward the solution, until we can get segregation thoroughly established.

In considering the question of care, segregation through colonization seems in the present state of our knowledge to be the ideal and perfectly satisfactory method. Sterilization may be accepted as a makeshift, as a help to solve this problem because the conditions have become so intolerable. But this must at present be regarded only as a makeshift and temporary, for before it can be extensively practiced, a great deal must be learned about the effects of the operation and about the laws of human inheritance.

I would like to think these types of attitudes do not still exist. We do have the backdrop of the horrors of the 1940's. But the attitudes which justify abortion of persons with down syndrome in the name of "quality of life" are at best misinformed and at worst evil.


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