The Doers of Good. Scandinavian Historians Revise the Social History of Eugenics (1997-2001)


  • Patrick Zylberman Center for Research in Medicine, Sciences, Health and Society CNRS UMR 8169/INSERM U 750, Paris, F.


Eugenics , Scandinavia


 Late disclosure of the large scale of sterilization practices in the Nordic countries created an outburst of scandal: did these policies rely on coercion? To what extent? Who in the end was responsible? Sterilization practices targeted underprivileged people first. The mentally retarded and wome were their first victims. Operations were very frequently determined by other people's manipulative or coercive influences. Should the blame be put on the Social-Democrats in power throughout the period ( except in Finland and Estonia)? Apart from Denmark, perhaps, local physicians and local services, more than governments, seemed to have strongly supported sterilization practices. Teetotalers and feminists shared responsibilities. How can one explain that eugenics finally declined? Based on a sound application of the Hardy-Weinberg law, the science of the eugenicists was correct. Was it politics? But uncovering of the Nazi crimes had only a very small impact on eugenics. Some authors underline the fact that the Nordic scientific institutions were particularly suited to liberal values. Others point to the devastating effect on eugenics once hereditarist psychiatry fell from favor in the middle of the sixties.