Appendix 47c - Fitness Craze

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

A Most Disagreeable Psychopath

A quote from the standard American medical text of the 1940s, Cecil's Textbook of Medicine: "Between attacks, the frank epileptic is usually a constitutional psychopath of the most disagreeable sort.... [Epileptics] are self-centered, unable to grasp the viewpoint of others, and childishly, uncomprehending when forced to accept the opposite view...."

Medicine found a solution for the problem epileptics presented: imprisonment in "colonies." William E. Sprattling, medical superintendent of one of the prisons: "Epileptics cannot be cared for successfully, or even with partial success, in any other way than under the colony plan.... Segregating epileptics in colonies has a too often forgotten value in that it keeps them from reproducing." Even as late as 1960, a prominent Harvard epilepsy authority was advocating killing epileptic children. He writes, "Society systematically and cruelly kills its best members by the means called 'war,' and unmercifully prolongs the lives of its hopeless liabilities [idiotic epileptic children]."[541]

Black Stork

Between 1915 to 1918, Chicago surgeon Harry Haiselden publicly permitted or hastened the deaths of at least six infants he diagnosed as eugenically defective. In the ensuing national debate, he won support from many public health figures, including Food and Drug Administration founder Harvey Wiley.[542] Distinguished American medical scientists advocated euthanasia for retarded children as late as 1942.[543]

An address at the 97th annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1941, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was entitled "The Problem of Social Control of the Congenital Defective: Education, Sterilization, Euthanasia." It started with a description of the problem, "We have too many feebleminded people among us...." It ended with the solution: Kill them.

The place for euthanasia... is for the completely hopeless defective: nature's mistake; something we hustle out of sight, which should never have been seen at all.... For us to allow them to continue such a living is sheer sentimentality, and cruel too; we deny them as much solace as we give our stricken horse.... It is unwise, I am sure, to advocate the legalizing of euthanasia for any of us normals....

The article ends with the sentence, "Should the social organism grow up and forward to the desire to relieve decently from living the utterly unfit... then... thereafter civilization will pass on and on in beauty."[544]

Good Mental Hygiene

The address did not pass without comment. The corresponding editorial was very critical. You can't just go around killing retarded kids, "An idiot child may have fond parents who want him alive."

The extreme devotion and care bestowed upon the defective child... is a matter of common observation... [and] disposal by euthanasia of their idiot offspring would perhaps unbearably magnify the parents' sense of guilt.

[The] exaggerated sentimentality or forced devotion which can serve no possible purpose can hardly be looked upon as desirable. Anything that can be said or done to relieve a parent's mind of the unhappy obsession of obligation or guilt, and to bring him to a more dispassionate view of the hopeless situation would seem to be good mental hygiene.

The final sentence sums up what psychiatrists should focus upon in the whole murder-the-feebleminded-at-5-years-old issue, "It is the evaluation and melioration of this parental attitude that the interest of the psychiatrist in the whole question must center."[545]



[541] "Researchers Say They Can Predict Who Will Become a 'Difficult' Patient."

[542] Pernick, MA. American Journal of Public Health 87(1997):1767-1772.

[543] Shevell, M. Neurology 42(1992):2214-2219.

[544] Kennedy, F. American Journal of Psychiatry 99(1942):13-16.

[545] "Euthanasia." American Journal of Psychiatry 99(1942):141-143.



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