In 1865, Darwin's half-cousin Sir Francis Galton pried the lid from yet another worm-can with the publication of his article entitled "Hereditary Talent and Character." In this essay, the gentleman-scientist suggested that one could apply the principle of artificial selection to humans just as one could in domestic animals, thereby exaggerating desirable human traits over several generations. This scientific philosophy would come to be known as eugenics, and over the subsequent years its seemingly sensible insights gained approval worldwide. In an effort to curtail the genetic pollution created by "inferior" genes, some governments even enacted laws authorizing the forcible sterilization of the "insane, idiotic, imbecile, feebleminded or epileptic," as well as individuals with criminal or promiscuous inclinations. Ultimately hundreds of thousands of people were forced or coerced into sterilization worldwide, over 65,000 of them in the country which pioneered the eugenic effort: The United States of America.
From the beginning, Sir Francis Galton and his league of extraordinary eugenicists were concerned that the human race was facing an inevitable decline. They worried that advances in medicine were too successful in improving the survival and reproduction of weak individuals, thereby working at odds with natural evolution. Darwin himself expressed some concern regarding such negative selection:
The cornerstone of eugenics was that everyone has the right to be "well-born," without any predisposition to avoidable genetic flaws. The 1911 edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica looked fondly upon the philosophy, defining it as "the organic betterment of the race through wise application of the laws of heredity." Prominent people gravitated towards the idea and engaged in vigorous intellectual intercourse, including such characters as Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, H.G. Wells, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and US presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. Supporters popularized eugenics as an opportunity to create a better world by using natural processes to elevate the human condition, both mentally and physically.
The eugenicists' concerns regarding a falloff in average intelligence were not entirely unreasonable. It had long been observed that intelligence is inheritable to a large degree, and history had illustrated that science and culture owe much of their advancement to the contributions of a few gifted people. Ingenious composers such as Beethoven and Bach advanced the art of music, thinkers such as such as Pascal and Newton improved the power of mathematics, and insights from scientists such as Einstein and Hawking have furthered the field of physics. Deprived of any one of those men, today's world would be a measurably poorer place. Even before modern IQ tests existed, it was evident that a population's intelligence adheres to a Gaussian distribution, or "bell curve." Consequently, even a small decline in average IQ causes a sharp reduction in the number of geniuses. For instance, if the average intelligence of a community were to decline by five IQ points, the number of individuals in the 130+ "Gifted" category would drop by 56%. A ten-point decline would result in an 83% drop. Although IQ testing is far from perfect, it is clear that even modest erosion of average IQ could severely compromise the long-term progress of a society.
Although this particular law was later overturned, it is widely considered to be the world's first eugenic legislation. The sterilization of imbeciles was put into practice, often without informing the patient of the nature of the procedure. Similar laws were soon passed elsewhere in the US, many of which withstood the legal gauntlet and remained in force for decades.
Meanwhile the founders of the newly-formed Eugenics Record Office in New York began to amass hundreds of thousands of family pedigrees for genetic research. The organization publicly endorsed eugenic practices, and lobbied for state sterilization acts and immigration restrictions. The group also spread their vision of genetic superiority by sponsoring a series of "Fitter Families" contests which were held at state fairs throughout the US. Alongside the state's portliest pigs, swiftest horses, and most majestic vegetables, American families were judged for their quality of breeding. Entrants' pedigrees were reviewed, their bodies examined, and their mental capacity measured. The families found to be most genetically fit were awarded a silver trophy, and any contestant scoring a B+ or higher was awarded a bronze medal bearing the inscription, "Yea, I have a goodly heritage."
With the apparent vindication of these myopic eugenics laws, sterilization procedures were ordered by the thousands. Carrie Buck and her daughter Vivian were among them. It was later discovered that Carrie had been become pregnant with Vivian after being raped by her foster parents' nephew, and that her commitment into the Colony had been a gambit to preserve the family's reputation. It seems that Carrie was neither feebleminded nor promiscuous, she was merely inconvenient.
These sorts of negative eugenics policies enjoyed widespread adoption in the US and Canada throughout the 1920s and 30s, with some lawmakers contemplating plans to make welfare and unemployment relief contingent upon sterilization. In the years leading up to the Second World War, however, the eugenic philosophy received the endorsement of the Nazis, and their "racial hygiene" atrocities rapidly dragged the eugenic philosophy from public favor. When Nazi leaders were put on trial for war crimes, they cited the United States as the inspiration for the 450,000 forced sterilizations they conducted. The eugenic laws in the US remained in force, however, and sterilization programs continued quietly for many years thereafter. One by one the state laws were repealed, and by 1963 virtually all US states had dismantled their sterilization legislation-- but not before 65,000 or so imbeciles, criminals, and fornicators were surgically expelled from the gene pool. As for the legal precedent of Buck v. Bell, it has yet to be officially overruled.
Even with the shifts in public opinion, concerns regarding the decline of the species still remained. It was believed that certain undesirable diseases could be reduced or eliminated from humanity through well-informed mate selection, including such maladies as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and certain types of cancer. In an effort to improve general quality of life, some scientists hypothesized that the ideal way to save humanity would be for healthy and attractive women to breed with men of science. Unfortunately, no orgy of intellectuals ensued.
Graham died in 1997, aged 90, and within two years his reservoir of super-sperm dried up due to lack of funding. Reports vary regarding the exact number of babies produced by the Repository for Germinal Choice, but at least 215 were born in almost two decades of operation. Only a few of the offspring have since come forward as products of the Repository, and though they tend to exhibit intellectual and physical excellence, the sample is too small to draw any concrete conclusions. Time will tell whether these superbabies are secretly plotting to enslave humanity for their own diabolical ends.
The breeding behaviors of humans remains of utmost interest to geneticists today. In Israel, the Dor Yeshorim organization was founded to provide genetic screenings for couples considering marriage. If it is discovered that both the man and woman carry the recessive gene for Tay-Sachs disease-- a genetic defect which causes a slow, painful death within a child's first five years-- the couple are advised against marrying. The same process screens for several other hereditary diseases which are common among Jews, and owing to this eugenic guidance, the number of affected individuals has been reduced considerably. A similar screening system has been successful in nearly eradicating the disease thalassemia on the island of Cyprus. Such applications align with the original vision of eugenics before it became distorted by misguided minds: voluntary, altruistic, and based upon scientifically measurable criteria. Unfortunately the imperfections in screening methods have occasionally led to bizarre "wrongful life" lawsuits, where disabled individuals seek compensation for their unprevented afflictions.