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Post- World War II: "Modern Eugenics"

"Modern eugenics is little interested in authoritarian controls. Rather it is hoping to shape the social and economic environment in such a way as to influence eugenic distribution of births throughout the entire population in a voluntary and largely unconscious process of selection."
Frederick Osborn, "Eugenics,"
Encyclopedia Britannica , 1969

After 1945, reported sterilizations in the United States gradually subsided, while social services expanded. Still, by 1970, approximately 400 Americans were sterilized each year under various state statutes.  While the American Civil Liberties Union challenged sterilization laws throughout the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, advocates of "modern eugenics" instituted genetics counseling clinics, funded population studies and population control programs in third world nations, and promoted birth control education and family planning as the modern, enlightened approach to eugenics.

To emphasize their abandonment of race hygiene concepts, authors of post-World War II biology textbooks and American Eugenics Society literature preempted their discussions of "modern eugenics" with a repudiation of the false assumptions, racism and class interests of the "old eugenics" and lamented the Nazi perversion of an otherwise reputable science. In the socially conscious 1960s, scholars in all fields challenged the racism and white privilege at the heart of the "eugenics consciousness" that the first generation of American and British eugenicists had sought to instill. The first histories of American eugenics, appearing in the 1960s, further reinforced the claims of geneticists that "the science of human genetics" had effectively discredited the "pseudoscience" of the old eugenics. In The Future of Human Heredity , Frederick Osborn defended the policies and proposals of modern eugenics within this new paradigm.  At the University of Vermont, biology professor Paul Amos Moody taught modern eugenics in the 1960s and 1970s.  His textbook, Genetics of Man (New York:  W. W. Norton, 1975), devoted two chapters to the biological, political, and social dimensions of modern eugenics (see Moody's gift copy of Genetics and Man in Special Collections, University of Vermont Libraries).  

The civil rights movement, women's movement, and Holocaust studies may have been more influential than scientific advance in bringing about a changed public consciousness of the explicit and implicit social injustices of both the old and the "new eugenics." Most important, the parents and advocates of handicapped children, who worked to remove the social stigma of "defectiveness" and who agitated for acceptance of their children's differences, played a crucial role in changing public opinion and public policy regarding mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

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