Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Eugenics is a broad term for policies aimed at the genetic improvement of the human race. Whereas most people are familiar with the eugenic practices of the Nazi Party, fewer realize the widespread international use of such practices, both before and after World War II. Derived from the Greek word meaning “well born,” eugenics falls into two types: positive and negative. Positive eugenics is encouraging people with “good genes” to reproduce, whereas negative eugenics refers to discouraging reproduction by people with “bad genes.” Often these policies are couched in terms of the “fit” and the “unfit.” Unlike social Darwinism, which argues that social systems will, if left alone, provide checks against poor breeding, eugenics implies an active role for the state. Eugenic programs include forced sterilization for those deemed unfit, as well as the criminalization of abortion for the fit. The definition of fitness is, of course, socially constructed and ...