Eugenics and Exclusion – History, Rebranding and Societal Attitudes

By Catia Malaquias

Changing societal attitudes to disability, particular subconscious attitudes, begins with an understanding of how they have been shaped by the treatment of people with disability – politically, socially, medically and in education – in our recent history, a time lived through by many in our current society.

A very influential group amongst our political, intellectual and economic elite in the 1900s were the Societies of Eugenics established in the UK, America and Australia with the aim of influencing government policy to contain and segregate the “undesirable”, the “burdensome” and the “worthless” – and to reduce their capacity to reproduce.  Ultimately, they saw disabled people as unworthy of the rest of society.

The policies of the Western Societies of Eugenics were admired by the Nazis and implemented as the “T4 program”, with added zeal and evil against people with disability.

But in the war crime trials that followed WWII, the Nazi doctors and officers escaped punishment for the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of people with disability – some argued that they only practiced what the UK and American eugenicists preached.

The following three articles outline the lingering history of the Societies of Eugenics and their rebranding in the UK, America and Australia.  They make clear why full inclusion of people with disability in all areas of life – in the same classrooms, workplaces, housing and community settings as everyone else – is not only a basic right but it is also critical to recalibrating societal attitudes distorted by this history and to limit the continued denial by those lingering attitudes of the broader realisation of the human rights of people with disability.

[Cover photo © Doug Maloney]

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