Eugenics: The root of the assisted dying movement

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

In response to attacks against the Care Not Killing Alliance in the UK, Jamie Gillies, in spiked-online,  focuses on the eugenics roots of the assisted dying movement. 

Gillies writes about Killick Millard who founded the leading assisted dying group in the UK. 

Scotland’s media class seems quite happy to spare prominent groups on the other side of the assisted-suicide debate from scrutiny. The Record, for instance, has failed to mention that Dignity in Dying, the group leading the charge for assisted suicide in the UK, was founded and funded by eugenicist politician Killick Millard.

Millard is
said to have been ‘informed by a coherent philosophy… underpinned by eugenic ideas about the importance of maintaining the calibre of the racial stock’. He was what, in modern terms, we might call ‘ableist’, arguing in 1931 that the ‘feeble-minded and mentally deficient’ – those with mental-health problems – ‘should be sterilised’.

And he was also
anti-working class. In 1911, in an essay on poverty, Millard celebrated the fact that ‘slum dwellers’ had a high rate of infant mortality, stating that ‘this consideration goes a long way towards allaying the fear that the falling birth-rate of the superior classes, and the comparatively high birth-rate of the very lowest class, threatens the quality of the race’.

It must be noted that in March 2020, a UN disability rights expert stated that she is concerned about euthanasia, assisted suicide and the new eugenics.

The American media also ignore the fact that the leading assisted suicide lobby group in the US, was also founded by hard core eugenics proponents.

Historian, Ian Dowbiggin, in his ground breaking 2003 book “A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America” proves beyond a doubt that the founders of the euthanasia lobby were wedded to the eugenics movement. His book was so clear that Compassion and Choices appears to have destroyed its historical archives.

In November 2015 Dowbiggin wrote about his concern that the historical records of the euthanasia lobby were destroyed. He wrote: 

One thing is clear: if the euthanasia movement’s records have indeed been destroyed, a lot of history has vanished, Orwell-like, down a cavernous memory hole. And with it, information the right-to-die movement doesn’t want you to know.

I should know, because I saw these records and I know what was in them. I wrote up my findings in my 2003 book on the history of the movement, published by Oxford University Press.

The story of my involvement in these valuable records begins about fifteen years ago when I was given permission to explore the archives of what used to be called Partnerships for Caring, Inc. PFC was a successor organization to the defunct Euthanasia Society of America (ESA). The ESA records, housed in a law firm in Baltimore, consisted of 15 large cardboard boxes holding correspondence, financial records, press releases, published materials and minutes of meetings, much of it uncatalogued.

There were literally thousands of items in these boxes documenting the entire 20th century history of the U.S. and non-American activists who advocated the legalization of various forms of euthanasia. The ESA archive contained materials relating to the careers of noteworthy social activists such as Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society (now called Compassion and Choices), Joseph Fletcher, the founder of “situation ethics,” Alan Guttmacher (after whom the population-control Guttmacher Institute in New York City is named), and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger who, unbeknownst to all her biographers, was also a vocal proponent of legalized euthanasia.

Not only did these activists urge governments to permit voluntary mercy-killing and physician-assisted suicide, many also supported the involuntary mercy-killing of handicapped people. For example, despite his knowledge of widespread Nazi murder of people with disabilities, in 1943 the ESA’s president thought it was a good idea to legalize euthanasia in time for returning veterans who suffered from mental and physical wounds.

Dowbiggin then explains how he learned that the euthanasia lobby destroyed their history. 

But the story did not end there. About five years after the book’s publication, I was contacted by a US graduate student researching the history of euthanasia. She told me that in trying to track down the ESA records she had been informed that the collection had been intentionally destroyed.

Just this year another US graduate student got in touch with me, also trying to locate the ESA archives. She too has been told the records no longer exist, although she is still investigating.

Of course, it might be that the ESA records are sitting somewhere safe and sound. Yet why do groups like Compassion and Choices ignore my own requests for information? Why, when a published scholar in the history of medicine enquires about the whereabouts of this important archive, is there a resounding silence?

The euthanasia lobby, world-wide, was intertwined with the eugenics movement and its leadership continues to be suspicious in its ideology today.

Let’s be clear. Removing the requirement of consent at the time of death, extending euthanasia to people with dementia, and in the Netherlands, the approval of the Groningen Protocol, which permits killing of babies with disabilities, are all eugenic ideological positions.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.