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Chapter 13 Page 2
Epigenetics Versus Genetics
At root, eugenics contradicts the fundamental premise of America’s founding charter, the Declaration of Independence, that all are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. Eugenics proceeds from a racist root, presuming that we may ascribe characteristics of people to their genes and deem certain of them undesirable, deserving of discrimination, including denial of the fundamental right of procreation. In this way, the Nazis aimed to eliminate through selective breeding, forced sterilization, and genocide all races except those possessed of blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, and certain other racially desired characteristics.
Adolph Hitler intended to make the XI Olympiad of 1936, the summer Olympics, a global demonstration of the ability of eugenics to produce a master race. Nazi policies ensured exclusion from the games of all Germans who did not meet the Aryan profile. Hitler expected his Aryan athletes would win most, if not all, events in proof of the validity of his racist policies. African American Jesse Owens had other plans, however. As Hitler watched, Owens destroyed the myth of eugenics and the Aryan race by besting Hitler’s athletes in event after event and doing so in a single day of competition. Owens was the most successful athlete of the games. He won gold medals in the 220 yard dash, the 220 yard hurdles, the broad jump, and the 4 x 100 meter relay.
After World War II, the concepts of selective human breeding and racial cleansing fell into disfavor as the world recoiled in horror at the sight of the Nazi death camps wherein Jews and all others deemed “undesirable” by the fascist regime had been warehoused, subjected to inhumane treatment and experimentation, and variously exterminated. Largely accepting that eugenics was neither scientifically valid nor socially acceptable, Western governments defined eugenics as the crime of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and, later in the Twentieth Century, in the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the European Union.
Among those who questioned eugenics early on was the geneticist and biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan. Based on redundant breeding experiments with red eyed fruit flies, Morgan was able to call eugenics into question with hard science. Although selectively bred red eyed fruit flies would be expected to beget only red eyed flies, Morgan found that in one instance they begat a white eyed fly. He challenged the notion that characteristics of intelligence and proclivity to commit crime were tied to genes and speculated that genes could not account for many human characteristics.