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Euthanasia – the right to die? Part I: Race hygiene and eugenics in Germany and the United States 1859-1914
 
 
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Department of Scientific Investigation and International Cooperation, Institute of Agricultural Medicine, Lublin, Poland
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR
Michael Tregenza   

Department of Scientific Investigation and International Cooperation, Institute of Agricultural Medicine, Jaczewskiego 2, 20-090 Lublin, Poland
 
J Pre Clin Clin Res. 2007;1(1):100–106
KEYWORDS
ABSTRACT
Introduction:
The article (Part I of 3)* outlines the advent and development of social Darwinism from the mid-1880s until the outbreak of World War I. Based on Darwin’s theory of evolution and the ‘survival of the fittest’ in the plant and animal kingdoms, German and American scientists adapted this theory to the human condition in the new science of ‘race hygiene’ in which the future of the species homo sapiens also depended on natural selection and selective breeding. This could only be achieved and maintained by the selection and elimination of the weak and ‘unfit’ through euthanasia. The ideas of such pioneering race hygienists as Ernst Haeckel, Alfred Jost, and Alfred Ploetz are presented, together with the ideology, proposals and demands of advocates for the new pseudo-science of eugenics. In time, the idea of voluntary euthanasia for the chronically or terminally ill and involuntary euthanasia for the mentally ill merged with the concept of the productive ‘worth’ of a mental patient to society. Those who were unproductive – the incurably mentally ill and therefore ‘worthless’ lives – were the candidates for involuntary euthanasia. The various demands by individuals and groups for State-sanctioned ‘mercy killing’ are mentioned, and the development of eugenics movements in Germany and the USA are outlined together with the differences in aims and interests.

 
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