Friday, September 16, 2005

Eugenics and Population


From:

Population Problems in the United States and Canada: An Outgrowth of Papers Presented at the Eighty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, December, 1924


Book by Louis I. Dublin; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926

CHAPTER XVII

EFFECT OF THE HEALTH MOVEMENT ON FUTURE POPULATION

By SAMUEL J. HOLMES

PROFESSOR OF ZOƖLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

THE ascertainment of the way in which the health movement will probably affect the population of the future is a many-sided problem. It is often assumed that the advancement of medicine and hygiene is bound to cause a certain amount of racial deterioration because the weaklings are thereby kept from being eliminated by natural selection. Mr. A. E. Wiggam, for instance, warns us that medicine and hygiene 'are weakening, will weaken the human breed.' 'Vice and disease,' he tells us, 'purify the race because they kill the weak and vicious. They leave the strong, robust, and virtuous to hand the torch of heredity to men unborn.' Possibly this is true. A priori, it sounds sufficiently reasonable. But it may be only partly true, and there may be counter-tendencies which, even from the standpoint of eugenics, serve to offset some of the racial ills which result from the saving of more lives. At any rate, the conclusion is one which requires careful scrutiny if our acts are to be in any way affected by it.

No one, so far as I am aware, recommends the cessation of medical aid and public health activities on account of their alleged injurious effects upon our racial vigor. Prospects of decadence through the decline of the death-rate are generally cited to impress us with the urgency of eugenic reform. But the chief occasion for alarm from the eugenical standpoint is to be found, I believe, more in the anomalous distribution of birth-rates than in the mere reduction of mortality. After all, it is the differential birth-rate that counts in evolution. It is birth, not death, that leads on to further development, the death of the unfit being favorable to advancement simply because it prevents the unfit from producing inferior progeny. If the unfit were not eliminated, but merely failed to reproduce, the outcome would be very much the same.

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