Eugenics refers to the study of or belief in the possibility of enhancing the qualities of the human species or a human population especially through means like discouraging reproduction by people who have genetic defects or presumed to possess inheritable traits that are undesirable or encouraging reproduction by persons who are presumed to bear inheritable desirable traits. Eugenics was originally developed by Francis Galton in 1883 but has a modern concept that is applied in different ways. The roots of eugenics can be traced back to the 1860s and 1870s in countries like France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States.
In the earlier days of the introduction of eugenics in the US after World War I, it was mainly viewed by many as way of promoting better breeding and prevention of poor breeding as well as the risk of it. During that time, the government applied the policy by keeping people with undesirable traits like alcoholism, epilepsy, pauperism among others in secluded locations so that they would not be able to reproduce.
Since the term Eugenics was coined, it has been used in reference to a number of practices that include prenatal care for mothers, forced sterilization and euthanasia. It is for this reason that there has been continuous debate as to what exactly fits the description of eugenics. There are certain kinds of eugenics that only deal with perceived detrimental or beneficial genetic traits. Such have been referred to as pseudo-eugenics.
Early eugenists like Karl Pearson and Walter Weldon were mainly concerned with intelligence aspects that often had strong correlation with social class. A number of eugenists acquired their inspiration from the selective breeding of animals as a way of improving the human society.
In Britain, USA and Europe, the popular appeal and intellectual legitimacy of eugenics declined after World War II as a result of revelations of the mass murders that were perpetrated by the Third Reich. However, this is did not end the eugenics debate in order to impact post-war ideas about the social applications of medicine. For instance, enthusiasts of social medication were of the idea that a kind of whole-person clinical practice should combine prevention and cure through synthesis of an understanding of the effects of environment and endowment upon psychological variability.
When looking at eugenics, it is important to note that there is positive and negative eugenics. The two methods were identified by Galton as the best for improving humanity. Positive eugenics advocated for education, childbirth stipends and tax incentives to encourage procreation among people who were deemed to possess good traits. Negative eugenics on the other hand, sought to limit procreation by imposing marriage restrictions, sexual sterilization, and segregation and euthanasia in extreme cases. In order to limit procreation among people deemed to be unfit, there were laws prohibiting marriage to people with certain health conditions including those believed to be hereditary. The laws also banned marriage between people of different races in order to avoid miscegenation.
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