I saw my first homeless person with mental illness in the spring of 1982 in Honolulu.
I worked at the psychiatric unit on which the homeless man had recently been a patient.
John came to us for a course of ECT treatments in the hope that the ECT would resolve some of the symptoms of his Schizophrenia.
He was psychotic and minimally responsive to medications.
I was on his treatment team and assisted his Psychiatrist with the ECT.
After his treatments we sent John to the State Hospital where we hoped he would remain stable enough to live on an open unit.
When I saw him on Hotel Street a week later digging through garbage for food, I was shocked.
I thought that he was in danger and went to his psychiatrist to report my concern.
Dr. Popenoe: Yes?
Me: I just saw John B. He is disorganized, filthy, and on the street eating trash. I thought you should know.
Dr. Popenoe: Why?
Me: (not getting it) I thought you should know. Shouldn’t John be in the hospital?
Dr. Popenoe: Don’t worry about John.
Dr. Popenoe: Don’t worry about John, He has better survival skills than I do.
Me: (still not getting it) How can that be? You’re married. You have a career. You support a family. John is eating trash.
Dr. Popenoe: (frowning) Don’t worry about John. (He glances at his watch) I’m scheduled to see a patient.
I’m fired a week later.
The President of the United States in the Spring of 1982 is Ronald Reagan.
The American Eugenics Movement
These men believed that civilization and improved medical technology subverted the goal of natural selection which favors the quick and strong. And the rich.
Common descriptions of people deemed genetically unfit implied moral turpitude.
Madison Grant, president of the Eugenics Research Association and the American Eugenics Society, wrote in The Passing of the Great Race:
“Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.”
He goes on to say: ” It is highly unjust that a minute minority should be called upon to supply brains for the unthinking mass of the community, but it is even worse to burden the responsible and larger, but still overworked, elements in the community with an ever increasing number of moral perverts, mental defectives, and hereditary cripples”
In 1906 J.H. Kellogg provided funding to help found the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan.
A Carnegie funded 1911 Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder’s Association recommended eighteen solutions to the problem of mental defectives.
Among the recommendations was execution and forced sterilization.
Methods of determining who was fit involved classifying people and their families by degrees of intelligence, material success and conformity to the rules of Social Hygiene.
Popenoe observed what he called Lethal Selection at work during the War.
“Poverty becomes rife, and sanitation and medical treatment are commonly sacrificed under the strain. During a war, that mitigation of the action of natural selection which is so common now among civilized nations, is somewhat less effective than in times of peace.”
For Popenoe the primary solution to the problem of mental defectives is execution by Lethal Neglect.
William Robinson, a New York urologist, published widely on the topic of birth control and eugenics. In Robinson’s book, Eugenics, Marriage and Birth Control (practical Eugenics), he advocates gassing the children of the unfit.
Robinson wrote: “The best thing would be to gently chloroform these children or to give them a dose of potassium cyanide.”
“Society cannot prevent the birth of all the unfit and degenerates, but it certainly has the right to prevent the birth of as many of them as possible…when it comes to distinctly and unquestionably anti-social acts, a human being has no more rights than an animal. We pity the paranoiac, we pity the insane, we pity the degenerate, but none the less we have not only the right but it is our duty to prevent the paranoiac, the insane, and the degenerate from reproducing their kind, from polluting the racial stock, and from being a social and economic burden to the sane, the normal and the healthy.”
From the Applied Eugenics:
“…Direct starvation is not a factor of importance in the survival of most races during most of the time at the present day so far as the civilized portion of the world is concerned. But disease and the other lethal factors not connected with the food-supply, through which natural selection acts, are still of great importance. From a half to two-thirds of all deaths are of a selective character, even under favorable conditions.”
The 1927 Supreme Court Buck v. Bell decision upheld the right of the State to impose sterilization on the unfit. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
With this decision the Mentally Ill and the disabled acquired a deeper and more sinister stigma.
We no longer had the right to live and it was OK to kill us if no one was looking or cared.
The most commonly suggested method of execution was to set up local gas chambers. However, many in the eugenics movement did not believe that Americans were ready to implement a large-scale euthanasia program, so many doctors had to find clever ways of subtly implementing eugenic euthanasia in various medical institutions. For example, a mental institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk infected with tuberculosis (reasoning that genetically fit people would be resistant), resulting in 30-40% annual death rates. Other doctors practiced euthanasia through various forms of lethal neglect. Eugenics in the United States
Lethal Medical Neglect
Applied Eugenics devotes a chapter to Lethal Selection: Two forms of lethal selection were distinguished, one depending on starvation and the other on causes not connected with the food supply. Direct starvation is not a factor of importance in the survival of most races during most of the time at the present day so far as the civilized portion of the world is concerned. But disease and the other lethal factors not connected with the food-supply, through which natural selection acts, are still of great importance. From a half to two-thirds of all deaths are of a selective character, even under favorable conditions.
A Short Timeline of Events
In 1907, Indiana passed the first eugenics-based compulsory sterilization law in the world. Thirty States soon passed similar laws.
By 1921, California had accounted for 80% of the mandatory sterilizations performed.
By 1930 the forced sterilization of and segregation of the mentally ill and other people deemed unfit became policy throughout most of the industrialized world.
The unfit were the poor, the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, the developmentally disabled, prostitutes, homosexuals, Blacks, Jews, and anyone deemed degenerate.
By 1938 Jews and other undesirables are detained, starved and gassed to death in Hitler’s concentration camps.
If you think this can’t happen in the United States then may not understand that it has happened.
We don’t use concentration camps in the U.S.
We deprive our mentally ill of resources and let them die on our clean streets.
For some reason, we believe they deserve it.
Rob Goldstein (c) 2016