China's rulers are soon to impose laws to "stop the prevalence of abnormal birth." This is not about stopping the birth of able-bodied people capable of performing massacres in Tiananmen Square. No, apparently that is quite OK. By "abnormal," they mean disabled people.
"China," says the Xinhua News Agency in Beijing, now has "10 million disabled people who could have been prevented through better controls."
This desire to get rid of mentally and physically different people runs like a thread through human history. The Alaskan Inuits killed impaired kids at birth, as did the Masai of Africa and the Woggeo of New Guinea. Greeks in the fourth century BC used to expose (leave out in the weather to die) their disabled infants.
The Bible doesn't help much either. In Leviticus 21:18 for example, some twelve impairments - from restricted growth to ruptured testicles, are listed as being unacceptable to God whilst in 2 Samuel 5:8 He orders that those who are blind and lame "shall not come into the home."
Darwin's theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest gave these ancient attitudes a new lease on life. In the capitalist jungle of Victorian England, social Darwinism and eugenics were soon invented to scientifically prove that, if the weakest went to the wall, such was the inevitable price of progress. Why bother to change society for the better when you had a scientifically legitimate way of getting rid of those who couldn't keep up, who fell by the wayside?
Soon enough, dozens of organizations such as the National Association for the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded (1896) and the British Social Hygiene Council (1914) were set up in Britain to protect society from being polluted by undesirable elements. But it was the Eugenics Society which fought for legislation in Britain to eliminate racial poisons, to increase the better stocks, and to promote the purity of the race.
You get an idea of the pollution in the heads of these non-disabled ghouls when you look at the kinds of things they used to say. In 1931 the Eugenics Society Secretary, C.P. Blacker (cited in Jones, 1986, p.95) wrote to the Medical Research Council about the challenge to research presented by "four million persons (the 10% subcultural group in England and Wales) who are the purveyors of inefficiency, prostitution, feeble-mindedness and petty crime, the chief architects of slumdom, the most fertile strain in the community. Four million persons forming the dregs of the community and thriving upon it as the mycelium of some fungus thrives upon a healthy vigorous plant."
Of course by "purveyors of social inefficiency," they didn't mean nice, upright people like themselves who propped up an unequal, discriminatory society hell-bent on the pursuit of profit and the exploitation of natural and human resources. No, they meant people like us disabled who were made dependent and unproductive by people who had created the kind of society which served and perpetuated their own non-disabled interests.
In England, the Eugenics Society failed to get enough members of Parliament to support their 1931 Voluntary Sterilisation Bill, but elsewhere in the world the message was getting through. In 1907 Indiana was the first of 30 American states to legalize the sterilization of a variety of disabled people and other "undesirables," and similar laws were passed in Germany (1933-4), Canada (1928), Denmark and Sweden (1929), Finland (1930) and Iceland (1930).
It was of course in Germany that the lust for our blood was taken to its logical conclusion. Under the National Socialist Party, the 1933 Law on the Prevention of Congenitally Impaired Progeny and the 1935 Marriage Health Law legalized involuntary sterilization and required doctors to report known disabled people to the Sterilization Courts.
But it was Hitler who really set the ball rolling to sweep us off the face of the earth. On September 1, 1939, he issued a directive which gave authority to "certain physicians to be designated by name in such a manner that persons who, according to human judgement, are incurable can, upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness, be accorded a mercy death."
In effect, this legalized the so-called "euthanasia programme" under which, by 1941, some 200,000 disabled Germans had been systematically exterminated by doctors in six killing centers across the country, by a variety of means including poison gas, starvation and lethal injections of morphine or scopolamine. The bodies were incinerated; some centers installed conveyor belts to permanent on-site coke- or oil-fired furnaces, others used mobile furnaces later mobilized for use in the Holocaust. Disabled people were thus the guinea pigs which enabled eugenic "science" to find its fullest expression in genocide.
But it wasn't the killing of disabled people that temporarily energized public morality, it was the larger-scale Holocaust, the murder of Europe's Jews. Eugenicists have ever since had to tread very carefully in pursuing their ambitions. Nowadays, they manipulate language to make their ideas more palatable. Their Eugenics Quarterly has been renamed The Journal of Social Biology. The Annals of Eugenics has become The Annals of Genetics .
For "human stock" we now read "gene pool" and "genetic hygiene" is now known as "genetic counselling."
Doctors today dress up methods of selecting out crips, methods like amniocentesis or ultrasound screening, as a form of reproductive choice for parents, even as being for our welfare. So-called sex selection techniques offer parents the choice of whether to bring males or females into their world.
Eugenicists are becoming more confident; some have suggested that genetic screening should be made compulsory before marriage. This is clearly less to do with reproductive choice, more to do with the eugenic control of certain types of people.
Disabled people are always at risk of fancy scientific ideas which allow old prejudices to strut around in the clothing of compassion, of new and desirable social advances. China's recently-announced sterilization laws are just an old way, nicked from the West, to shift attention away from social, economic and political problems. Such problems, coupled with "scientific advances" and the general drift to the right in world politics, create the climate where the morally upright can openly campaign for the morally repellent.
This can be seen as much in the freedom with which pressure groups campaign for the legalization of euthanasia - as recently in the states of Oregon and Washington - or in judicial rulings permitting the switching off of food, water, and air to people in coma, and in the impunity with which Parliament feels that it is able to sacrifice disabled life in the form of potentially impaired fetuses in the passage of laws governing abortion.
Ten years ago the Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People [DCDP] wrote the following into its Policy Statement: "The Coalition affirms the value of individual human life and the right of all impaired people to lead a full and satisfying life. To this end the Coalition opposes any attempt to legalise the withholding, on the grounds of a person's impairment, of anything necessary to support the continuation of life. We will endeavor to identify the social causes which devalue life, and to find the means to remove these causes."
We stand by it today. Today DCDP has affiliated with the Anti-Nazi League and the Anti-Racist Alliance. The rise of neo-nazism, the increasing numbers of disabled people being attacked on the streets of European cities, and the reversion to nationalism and territorial hostilities, show how easily the political climate essential for the re-emergence of the most extreme eugenic policies has come round yet again.