When I began reading the assigned chapters, I was glad to learn about the approaches that were taken by the Heilpadagogik Station to better understand behavioral patterns in neurodiverse children. Their approach allowed the children to live with little structure and therefore allowed them to study the behavior of the children without stifling their natural inclinations with strict regimes of institutional living. The studies they pursued were not to change the children or merely provide data about their habits, but to ensure a better understanding of how the children learn and the methods of teaching which would best suit these children. This emphasis on striving to meet the needs of these children without trying to force conformity is described stating, “The best teachers for these children, Asperger observed, were willing to meet the children halfway, instead of insisting that they act like everybody else” (106). Asperger advocated for these children and strove to speak out for them as is indicated in Neurotribes as “Asperger was speaking out with the “force of his whole personality” for the sake of children all over Europe who had not yet been murdered by a monstrous idea of human perfectibility- an idea that his supervisors, who were fervent Nazis, had imported from America” (109).
This disheartening shift into the idea of Eugenics truly infuriates me and I found that as I read I had to stop frequently to take a break. Once the topic of Eugenics was introduced, I began to view science, specifically genetics and the study of hereditary traits, in a negative light due to the extreme emphasis on perfection and neurotypicality. When I read Osborn’s statements about the “worst elements of society” followed by his comment to his fellow scientists after this speech that he formed a “new appreciation of the “spiritual, intellectual, moral, and physical value of the Nordic race” (111) I was struck by the extremely unscientific racist and elitist views which influenced his scientific views.
I was further shocked by the lack of scientific ethics in experimentation as I read that Darwin’s son Leonard actually “hailed the American Stock Breeders’ Association’s experiments with sterilization by X-ray as a promising development” (113). Compulsory surgery violates every ethical boundary in scientific experimentation and truly disgusts me because not only does it violate the rights of those involved, but it dehumanizes them as well. My disgust was only increased as I read that “One of the institute’s primary interests was congenital disorders of the psyche” (113). When I researched Eugenics further I was disgusted to find that “Euthanasia has been described by eugenicists as the painless killing of an unworthy life” (The ‘Science’ of Eugenics: America’s Moral Detour 123). The implication that people who may not be neurotypical or perfect in every way are not worthy of life makes me absolutely sick. I apologize for my lack of a better term, but the idea that eugenicists could consider a fellow human being as an “unworthy life” horrifies me, especially when I consider the stigma which still surrounds mental illness. As someone with personal ties to mental illness, I struggled with this reading because while there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, there is still the threat that a similar “scientific” campaign could resurface.
Singleton, Marilyn M. The ‘Science’ of Eugenics: America’s Moral Detour. N.p.: The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 2014. 122-25.