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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Educational Material

Unit 12 - Biopolitics and Eugenics – Determining Factors in a Nation’s Governing


2.2 Case Scenario

The case scenario for the topic of eugenics

The case scenario is not only an illustration of how eugenic practices in communist Romania had a strong negative impact on Romanian society. The two readings selected prove it is also a phenomenon studied nowadays by various specialists who point out the long term effects of this type of laws and the learning points for other countries, (see comparison with the situation in the USA)

„In the 1960s, the Communist government of Romania outlawed most contraception and abortion. The president, Nicolae Ceauşescu, wanted to expand the population to become more of an economic power and, therefore, a world power. This new law produced a huge increase in births, more children than many families could afford. As a consequence, hundreds of thousands of children were sent to live in orphanages. Many were appallingly mistreated. The children who are most relevant to our lesson here are the ones whose social needs went unmet.

In some orphanages, babies were warehoused in rows of cribs, with little stimulation or social interaction. Nurses or caregivers would come in and feed them, change them, and put them back in the cribs. That was about it. Nobody cuddled these babies. No one played with them. No one conversed with or sang to them, or shared attention. They were ignored.

As a consequence of this social neglect, the Romanian orphans grew up intellectually impaired. They had problems learning language. They had difficulty concentrating and resisting distractions, probably because nobody had shared attention with them, so their brains never developed the wiring for an effective spotlight. They also had trouble controlling themselves. Alongside the children’s mental and behavioral issues, their bodies were stunted, most likely because they grew up without caregivers to keep their body budgets solvent. This meant their brains never learned to budget effectively. A little brain wires itself to its environment, and when that environment is missing key elements for healthy body budgeting, critical brain wiring can be pruned away.

These aftereffects are consistent with what scientists know about other babies raised in severely socially impoverished conditions. Their brains develop smaller than average. Key brain regions are smaller too, and important areas of the cerebral cortex have fewer connections. If such children are moved to traditional foster homes in the first few years of life, some of these effects are reversible. Similar risks can arise for any kids reared in institutions without attentive, consistent caregivers, whether these institutions are orphanages, refugee camps, or immigrant detention centers.

When children are persistently neglected, in all likelihood they’ll suffer ill effects eventually. The impact might not be immediate and dramatic, as in the Romanian orphanages, but can be gradual and subtle as important wiring goes unused and is steadily pruned away. The fallout may build up over time like a slow drip from a water pipe that eventually bores a hole through your floorboards. For example, a neglected little brain in a socially impoverished environment may wire itself to manage its own body budget alone, without the social support from caregivers and the wiring instructions they provide through their actions. This no typical wiring imposes a pernicious burden on the body budget that accumulates over years, raising the odds of serious health problems later, such as heart disease, diabetes, and mood disorders like depression, all of which have metabolic underpinnings.” Lisa Feldman Barrett, „Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston / New York, 2020)

„In Chapter 4, called «Where Have All the Criminals Gone?», Levitt expands on the crime and abortion correlation previously discussed in the book's introduction. He starts with a case study on Romania. When Nicolae Ceausescu became the communist dictator of Romania, he made abortion illegal. The aim was to boost Romania's population in order to strengthen the nation. Before that point, abortion rates were high in Romania, with four abortions for every live birth.

Within one year of the abortion ban, the Romanian birth rate had doubled. These children born after the abortion ban would lead especially miserable lives, less successful in school and in the workforce on average than children born before them. They were also likely to become criminals. The abortion ban continued until Ceausescu lost his grip on Romania, when in 1989 he was captured and killed by protestors largely consisting of the youth of Romania—the ones who would not have been born, had he not instated the abortion ban.

The Romanian abortion story is the reverse of the American crime story. When crime began to drastically fall in the U.S. in the early 1990s, experts sought an explanation for the fall. (…)

Using the story of Romania as a reverse case of what happened in the United States helps Levitt to accentuate the latter account. Since Romania experienced the exact opposite effect—banning abortion led to a drastic increase in crime approximately a generation later—it is clear that abortion truly is linked to crime. It also paints a chilling picture of the kind of crime levels that may have been similarly seen in the U.S. had the Roe v. Wade decision gone the other way and the crime rate continued rising.” „Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” (2005), lucrare a universitarului american Steven Levitt și a jurnalistului de la The New York Time, Stephen J. Dubner

‘It is proposed in the following remarks to meet an objection that has been repeatedly urged against the possible adoption of any system of Eugenics, namely, that human nature would never brook interference with the freedom of marriage.

In my reply, I shall proceed on the not unreasonable assumption, that when the subject of Eugenics shall be well understood, and when its lofty objects shall have become generally appreciated, they will meet with some recognition both from the religious sense of the people and from its laws. The question now to be considered is, how far have marriage restrictions proved effective, when sanctified by the religion of the time, by custom, and by law? I appeal from armchair criticism to historical facts. ‘ Essays on Eugenics- Sir Francis Galton.

The video with a fragment from the interview with Prof. Marius Turda, historian, researcher and professor in bio-medicine at the University Oxford Brooks and the director of a humanistic centre. Globally/Internationally, will refer to situations similar to the 770 Decreein Romania, in other countries at present.

Countries which promote very aggressive natalist policies as the communist Romania tried to at that time in 70’s – abortion was considered to be a crime against the nation, a problem because it reduces the number of babies born. And that happened with horrific consequences, not only for women, but for the society at large, in communist Romania, it happens to some extend in Poland today, where of course abortion is a problem and it’s illegal, unless of course, for very serious medical reasons, it happened in Catholic countries, throughout the 20th century, and you could see how difficult it was for many women in Catholic countries to get access to abortion, whether it was Spain, Portugal or Northern Ireland, which only recently decriminalized abortion. And of course, Central and South

America, where abortion is still considered to be, for a number of reasons, including religion, an affront to human dignity. You have that rhetoric of natalism fusing with eugenics throughout the 20th century, because of course, eugenics wanted and eugenicists advocated not only prevention, or the possibility of preventing those who have hereditary defects to have offspring, but they also wanted those who they deemed superior from the point of view of heredity, and social standing and intellectual achievement. They wanted those to actually have more children. So there was a lot of positive eugenics policies implemented in the name of eugenics, including natalism or pro-natalism laws that cut across from helping people to have more children, looking after the mothers, after the children. And you have that reaching political overtones, it happened in communist Romania, as we mentioned, it’s happening right now with Viktor Orban’s Hungary, where of course, Hungary at the moment has very aggressive natalist policies geared to Hungarian families and young Hungarians, which has very serious eugenic overtones. It basically duplicates or replicates most of the eugenic arguments about the numerous families, worthy people and the future of the nation rests with the family. Basically what they’re saying, the future of the nation rests with the female body. We shouldn’t forget, eugenicists speak of reproduction, breeding, the future of the nation, but what they actually mean is that we need to control female bodies, because ultimately it is within the female body that the entire future of the race and the country and the nation is being placed. So, not surprisingly, most of the victims of these policies, whether we’re talking about abortion, or we’re talking about sterilization are women. It is women who always fought first for eugenic practices and policies.

The excerpts from the recent interview with Prof Turda give examples of how eugenics contributed to the development of some present day criteria in education, and then about eugenic manifestations today and possible future evolutions of how societies and people will embrace eugenics.

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