I’ve been reading the book, Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. I have always enjoyed Ms. Picoult’s books because they challenge me and make me think 'outside the box'. Second Glance is no exception to that. I’m only about half way through the book, and am still waiting to see how the themes of ghosts and eugenics will be brought together, but I am staying up way too late each night reading.
Being a parent of children with intellectual disabilities, hearing the word eugenics is worse than hearing the word f*&k, and anyone who knows me personally will understand the impact of that statement. So, I decided to spend a little time researching eugenics, and in particular, the Vermont Eugenics Project featured in Ms. Picault’s book. In a way, I wish I hadn’t done that.
I found an entire website dedicated to documentation about the Vermont Eugenics Project. The website presents its information as an historical perspective to Vermont’s past. There is no position presented (as far as I could tell in my limited research) as to whether the Project was a good thing or a bad thing. Rather, it is just a collection of information. The piece of information that disturbs me the most, however, is a document containing an excerpt of something written by Frederick Osburn titled “Eugenics Policies and Proposals.” It was written in 1968 – yes, 1968 – and that is what I found most disturbing.
In one of her interviews about Second Glance, Ms. Picault says, “you probably feel a bit like I did - shocked that this happened only 70 years ago, shocked that it happened in America, and shocked that I didn't know about it before. But what really resonated in me was that it continues to happen: today's debate over mapping the human genome and cloning and gene replacement therapy addresses many of the same issues that were raised by scientists who supported eugenics years ago.”
Did you know that there is still an American Eugenics Society? In 1972 it was renamed “The Society for the Study of Social Biology”, and its current President is S. Jay Olshansky, currently professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and a Research Associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
I didn’t spend much time on this research, but intend to spend more. But with just this little bit, I am shocked and very, very worried.