ALFIE “DISCARDED” – The root of evil is in England

Featured Image: Chuttersnap at Unsplash

Riccardo Cascioli

Speaking of the rulings on the Alfie case, many have recalled the Nazi laws. But it is a reductive reconstruction, because the true origin lies in the Eugenetic Societies that flourished at the beginning of the 20th century. And are still very active to our days.

“What advantage does humanity draw from the thousands of unfortunates who come into the world every year, from the deaf and dumb, from idiots and from suffering from incurable hereditary diseases, kept alive artificially until they reach adulthood? … What immense lump of suffering and pain such squalor entails for the unfortunate sufferers themselves, what incalculable sum of concern and pain for their families, what loss in terms of private resources and costs for the state at the expense of the healthy! How many sufferings and how many of these losses could be avoided if one finally decided to free the totally incurable from their indescribable suffering with a dose of morphine.”

Some might think that these words were spoken by some Nazi hierarchy. But no, they go back well before Nazism: they are found in the book The Wonders of Life (Die Lebenswunder), written in 1904 by Ernst Haeckel. Known as the founder of ecology, Haeckel is above all an enthusiastic disciple of Charles Darwin and his theories on natural selection. And then of Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Darwin and father of Eugenics. Galton takes the Darwinian theory of natural selection to its extreme consequences: also based on the recent discovery of gene inheritance, the question arises of how to 『 “guide” this selection in order to improve the human race.

Thus the Societies of Eugenics were born in the first years of the 20th century. At the beginning there was talk of “positive” eugenics, that is, through selective marriages, favoring those among the best elements of society. But soon we move on to the “negative” one, that is the ban on the weak to reproduce. Not for nothing eugenic laws (with forced sterilizations of the “unsuitable”) between 1910 and 1925 are approved and applied in several northern European countries and in most of the US states. It is a framework that helps better to understand what is happening at the Alder Hey Liverpool hospital where little Alfie Evans is treated as a “waste” to be eliminated.

Many in these days, also reading the chilling judgments of the British judges, have recalled the Nazi laws on breed selection. If the German regime certainly had the possibility to apply certain ideas, it is reductive and ultimately misleading to reduce the eugenics mentality to Nazism. On the contrary, it is precisely the Great Britain of the late 1800s – early 1900s at the origin of that racist movement and that “culture of the waste” (as Pope Francis would say) which then had the greatest splendor in the Third Reich. And Nazi Germany might not have had the chance to implement certain programs if it had not been for the generous funding of the great American and British foundations and for the great consensus they received in Europe. Professor Ernst Rudin, a Nazi psychiatrist and theoretician of the racial laws, was able to open his Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Eugenics and Human Genetics (Munich, 1927) thanks to the funds of the Rockefeller family. And after all Hitler could count on the friendship and solidarity of other heads of government, also belonging to the Eugenics Societies, such as the British premier Arthur Neville Chamberlain and the French collaborationist prime minister Henri-Philippe Pétain. So Nazi Germany is not the origin of the problem but precisely that liberal Britain that horrifies us today. Nor is it correct to speak of a “return.” In reality the eugenics movement has never gone away; it was only transformed because at the end of the Second World War and because of what happened in Germany, the word “eugenics” no longer enjoyed a good reputation. So slowly the Societies of Eugenics are transformed, first of all into a society of genetic research or of biology, but also simply change their name to make themselves more presentable.

This is the case of the British Eugenics Society: it has never stopped its activity. It is simply called today Galton Institute and above all through its annual “Galton Lecture” enhances the studies on genetics that go in the direction of man’s “tailor-made” construction. Just to give an example, the Galton Lecture 2018 will feature Professor Jennyfer Doudna, author of an ethically controversial research on genome editing. The purpose of many studies by the Galton Institute is to arrive at the “construction” of individuals with the desired physical and moral characteristics. What we attribute to Nazism, then, is in fact a culture well rooted in the United Kingdom (and not only there), still very much followed. Indeed, as the case of Alfie Evans demonstrates, it is now openly practiced in hospitals and in courts without anyone objecting, without anyone being scandalized and without anyone finding this sinister.

(From La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, 2018©AP. Used with permission)