It’s summer and everywhere you look there are hugely pregnant women. Happy pregnant women proudly showing off their taut, swollen bellies (Gone are the days of maternity tents, thank goodness). And not-so-happy pregnant women smoking; pregnant sucking back a beer on their front steps; pregnant women wearily dragging 3 or 4 toddlers through the mall, at least one of whom is being pushed in a broken-down stroller; pregnant women huddled in doorways asking for spare change.
Sometimes you feel sorry for the woman. Always you feel sorry for the kids. And sometimes you can’t help but say (quietly) to yourself, “some people shouldn’t have kids.”
Is having kids – bearing them and/or raising them – an inalienable human right? Is the idea of screening people for parenthood even palatable?
Adopting a child requires quite a lengthy and rigorous process. Even adopting or buying a puppy from a reputable source often requires some sort of screening process. But becoming a parent the biological way requires nothing and, in fact, is now treated like a sacred, untouchable phenomenon. Even if unplanned and unwanted, people are guilted into letting nature take its course.
Except that pretty much all non-Catholic western countries have, at some point practiced eugenics. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta was repealed in this country. One of the largest eugenics programs in the world, created by the social democrats in Sweden, was in effect until 1975. Large scale programs were also in effect for most of the 20th century in the US, Belgium, Brazil, Norway, Australia, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland and Switzerland.
Most of these programs called for the mandatory sterilization of people considered to be “mentally deficient“ and some also targeted genetic illnesses and/or racial and ethnic minorities who were considered to be “genetically inferior”.
Prominent people throughout history have believed in, supported and promoted eugenics including: Margaret Sanger, HG Wells, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Emile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Linus Pauling. Hitler, of course, was the biggest and most totally insane fan of eugenics.
There are groups active today (who I won’t name or link to because they kind of give me the willies – but who you can find by googling “eugenics”) who are attempting to advance the mandatory sterilization of all persons of “inferior intelligence”. They say that intelligent people are having fewer children, while less intelligent people are having more and that this will eventually bring about the downfall of our society.
Like I said, they give me the willies, but in some twisted way they have a kernel of a point. It is statistically true that in this society, people who are better educated and consequently have greater means, are having no children or maybe 1 or 2 children, while people with less education and lesser means are having far more children. That doesn’t necessarily mean smarter people are better parents though, or that their children will turn out to be more productive members of society.
Which brings me to the question of what makes for good parenting? Let’s take for granted that parents love their children unconditionally and care for them and feed them, clothe them and keep them safe and sheltered. These are pretty much the basics. Some people believe if they do those things well, they’ve been good parents.
But, do parents have obligations beyond that? Should they be able to support their children through at least one post-secondary degree or diploma? Should they provide them with enrichment opportunities as they grow up – travel, music lessons, involvement in sports, exposure to the arts and culture? Feed them food that nourishes and enhances their minds and bodies rather than just filling it up?
These are things you can’t do if you aren’t particularly well off or have a big family. Yes, there are all sorts of community programs to assist in these areas, but unless those children are particularly bright and determined and lucky, they will never be able to achieve the successes that children from more advantaged families will achieve quite easily.
And that’s sad.
And then there are all those children whose parents may love them very much, but are not able to care for their children adequately; who can’t provide them even with the basics; who pass on addictions and mental or physical illnesses; who can’t keep them safe or sheltered. These kids have even less hope of success in their lives. (And by success, I don’t mean being rich and famous. I just mean getting an education, a good job, being able to raise a family comfortably, being healthy and happy adults).
And that’s even sadder.
And that brings things full circle because we, as a society will have to take responsibility for these families to help them succeed and to stop they cycle of poverty and ignorance. And how do we accomplish that? One answer is eugenics. The less autocratic answer is much more complex and is one which no government seems to want to address.