Wednesday14th March, 2007

 
Clevon Raphael
 
 
 
 
 
Letters
Online Community
Death Notices
 
Advertising
Classified Ads
Jobs in T&T
Contact Us
 
Archives
Privacy Policy
 
 
 

 

[email protected]

Down a slippery slope

Mtima Solwazi

Former Opposition UNC Senator Harry Mungalsingh’s statements in the Upper House on February 27 have sparked nationwide debate.

Outlining his “comprehensive plan” to combat the spiralling crime epidemic facing the country, the now “infamous” former senator recommended, among other areas, a “change in abortion laws” and “cash for voluntary sterilisation” in “16 specific communities, 12 along the east/west corridor, one in central and two in south.”

Mungalsingh also alluded that “I am in close touch with the Muslim community and l know for a fact that they have no difficulty with what I have said...”

I would like to add my two cents to those controversial statements.

Firstly, being a Muslim I would like to respond to the latter. Islam does not advocate abortion unless the foetus endangers the life of the mother. And voluntary sterilisation, like female circumcision, is not an Islamic practice and as a result Islam does not impose upon women the application of those methods.

Secondly, the brilliant “comprehensive plan” proposed by the former senator is not a new theory. As a matter of fact, when I first heard his statement, the “Buck vs Bell” case of America came to mind. In this discourse I would like to shed some light on the proposal of Mungalsingh.

Dr William B Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who late in his career became intensely interested in questions of race, breeding and eugenics, argued that blacks are genetically inferior in intelligence to whites.

He postulated that “the major cause of the American Negro’s intellectual and social deficit is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and not remedial to a major degree by practical improvements in environment.”

As a possible solution to countering this perceived problem, of what the doctor refers to as the excessive reproduction of the “genetically disadvantaged,” Shockley suggested the voluntary sterilisation plan where individuals with IQs below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilisation. Shockley believed that the higher rate of reproduction among African Americans was having what he called a “dysgenic” effect due to their lower IQs.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Sir Francis Galton systematised the ideas and practices of eugenics according to new knowledge about the evolution of man and animals provided by the theory of his cousin, Charles Darwin.

Galton’s basic argument was that “genius” and “talent” were hereditary traits in humans. He reasoned that since many human societies sought to protect the underprivileged and weak, those societies were at odds with the natural selection responsible for extinction of the weakest. Only by changing these social policies could society be saved from a “reversion towards mediocrity” or “regression towards the mean.”

The above arguments are strongly rooted in the study of eugenics. Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention.

The purported goals have variously been to create healthier, more intelligent people, save society’s resources and lessen human suffering. Earlier proposed means of achieving these goals focused on selective breeding, while modern ones focus on prenatal testing and screening, genetic counselling, birth control, in vitro fertilisation and genetic engineering.

These theories have been suggested as far back as Plato, who believed human reproduction should be controlled by government. He recorded these ideals in The Republic: “The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior.”

From its inception eugenics was supported by prominent thinkers including Alexander Graham Bell, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill. The scientific reputation of this study started to tumble in the 1930s when Ernst Rudin began incorporating eugenic rhetoric into the racial policies of Nazi Germany.

After the postwar period, both the public and the scientific community generally associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, which included enforced racial hygiene, human experimentation and the extermination of undesired population groups.

Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for coercive state-sponsored discrimination and human rights violations, such as forced sterilisation. Compulsory sterilisation programmes are government policies which attempt to force people to undergo surgical sterilisation.

During the first half of the 20th century, many such programmes were instituted in many countries around the world, usually as part of eugenics programmes intended to prevent the reproduction and multiplication of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.

Today, compulsory sterilisation programmes are usually seen as overly coercive and blunt attempts at genetic engineering which focused disproportionately on poor and disenfranchised groups.

The most well-known compulsory sterilisation programmes were those of Nazi Germany, which sterilised over 400,000 individuals in the 1930s-40s; the US, which sterilised over 64,000 individuals from 1900s through the 1970s; Sweden, which sterilised 62,000 individuals from the 1930s through the 1970s as a condition required for receiving welfare, securing one’s release from prison/mental institutions or for keeping custody of children.

Developments in genetic, genomic and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century, however, have raised many new ethical questions and concerns about what exactly constitutes the meaning of eugenics and what its ethical and moral status is.

As we progress towards 2020 developmental status, we should utilise the experiences of nations that preceded us by adopting the policies that benefited their development and abstaining from those that retarded their development.

I end with the comment from Fyzabad Opposition MP Chandresh Sharma: “No one should panic. Everyone makes errors and some have their foolish moments and it may be a combination of both...”

Mtima Solwazi is the editor-in-chief of

Reflection of Our Oral TraditionS (ROOTS)

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell