In his classic study, The Nazi Doctors, Robert J. Lifton states that “five identifiable steps” led directly to Auschwitz, and the mass murder of millions, Jews and others. The first, and crucial step, was “compulsory sterilization” of the “criminally insane” and of other people considered “genetically inferior.”

It is important to note, however, that programs of coercive sterilization were neither begun by the Nazis, nor were they confined to Germany. The Holocaust did not start with the Third Reich. Recent stories in The Globe and Mail (August 26 and 30, 1997) name some of the many countries which had legislation authorizing compulsory sterilization for specific groups. Reports indicate that many people in Sweden and Switzerland were completely unaware that their countries had been involved in such programs. (After the Nazi trials many countries tried to hide and forget their complicity).

It was Ron Haggart who, in a letter to the editor, set part of the record straight; Canada, too, had had forced sterilizations. (“The same nightmare happened here,” Globe and Mail, August 30, 1997). The Sexual Sterilization Act (1928) in Alberta resulted in almost 3,000 people being coercively sterilized. Ron Haggart made a further point; he noted that the writer of the article on Sweden, Bernard D. Caplan (“who writes for the Hearst newspapers and is happily reproduced by The Globe and Mail”) uses the sterilizations to attack Sweden’s Social Democratic Party. But blame belongs to other political parties too, e.g., the Sterilization Act was “passed and enforced” by successive Alberta governments “that were, in all but name, conservative.” Haggart concluded by saying: “. . . in seeking icons we should not rewrite history, and The Globe and Mail should not assist in ignoring it.”

In his article for the Hearst newspapers, Caplan completely ignored the much greater complicity of the USA in programs to sterilize those judged to be “socially inadequate.”  The history of the United States, too, should not be rewritten.

A few facts

1. As early as 1920 some 25 of the states had enacted legislation for compulsory sterilization of designated groups, usually those of the “underclass.”

2. Early in this century a relatively simple form of vasectomy had been developed in US penal institutes, thus facilitating male sterilizations.

3. In 1927, the US Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law that authorized sterilization in families whose “hereditary mental deficiency” and “feeble-mindedness” were demonstrated over three generations.”  The case involved the victim, Carrie Buck who suffered from epilepsy, and her mother who was also epileptic. The “third generation” was Carrie’s seven-month-old baby whose “mental deficiency” was diagnosed (and the diagnosis accepted) on the grounds that “someone” had said he had “a look” that was “not quite normal.” (Daniel J. Kevles” in The Name of Eugenics, Penguin books, 1985).

Other evidence (including that of the I.Q.s) is equally suspect. Another study of the case states that one genetic biologist, whose evidence was accepted by the Court, never examined either Carrie or her mother … Nevertheless, he decided that the family belonged to the “shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class” that “modern science and beneficent social legislation is obligated to eradicate.” (Atwell and Paige, Eugenic Sterilization. Quoted by George Grant in Grand Illusions, 1992).

4. The decision of the US Supreme Court was written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who seemed to be comfortable with the views of the biologist. Justice Holmes wrote:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices. . . in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”  He concluded by saying: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” (Buck v Bell, 1927).

Robert J. Lifton quotes Hitler in the chapter, “Sterilization and the Nazi Biomedical Vision” in The Nazi Doctors. Hitler said;
“The volkisch state must see to it that only the healthy beget children . . . . Here the state must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge. It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick, or who have inherited a disease they can pass on.”

Hitler was on his way to legalizing mass murder, but do his views differ fundamentally from those of the biologist or Justice Holmes?  All three are convinced of their own superior worth; all three are contemptuous of less fortunate beings; all three accept the teaching of a pseudo-science called eugenics.

5. A fifth fact is that eugenics and the sterilization movement were not hidden in the United States or indeed in Europe. They were supported by the media, by prominent writers, and by many ordinary citizens. There was, however, also strong opposition, in the same way that abortion and euthanasia are fought today. A study of the sterilization movement, published in 1932 describes the “alarmist eugenics” and “ardent eugenicists” who regard “the socially inadequate persons, the feeble-minded, the epileptics, the mentally diseased, the blind, the deformed, and the criminals as inimical to the human race.” The eugenicists teach that “these peoples perpetuate their deficiencies and thus threaten the quality of the ensuing generations.” (J. E. Landman, Human Sterilization: The History of the Sexual Sterilization Movement, 1932).

6. Leading the bandwagon in this movement was Margaret Sanger, an American, who openly supported the Nazi “race purification” program, and who endorsed sterilization, abortion and euthanasia.

The eugenics movement is usually thought to have begun two centuries ago, in 1798, with the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus. Malthus, an Englishman and a professor of political economy, wrote that within a short period of time, unchecked growth of population would outstrip the Earth’s resources, and massive starvation would follow. In order to avoid this famine, he said “we should encourage other means of destruction” such as “conditions which lead to plague and pestilence.” He added that, above all, we should condemn “specific remedies for ravaging diseases, and restrain those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extinction of particular disorders.”

Malthusianism became the fashionable creed of the intellectual – and the would-be intellectual-élite, but not, of course in its entirety. After all, they knew that plague and pestilence are not respecters of boundaries between wealthy areas and slums, or between university professors and homeless vagrants. Instead of promoting plague they chose other means of limiting population growth: first sterilization, and then contraception and abortion.

Contrary opinion ridiculed

The people who rejected Malthusianism were mocked and maligned. The historian, Paul Johnson, wrote: “All the ablest elements in Western society, the trend-setters in opinion, were wholly taken in by this monstrous doctrine of unreason. Those who objected were successfully denounced as obscurantists, and the enemies of social progress. They could no longer be burned as heretical subverters of the new orthodoxy, but they were successfully and progressively excluded from the control of events.” (Paul Johnson,  A History of the English People, New York, 1985). Put in the present tense this quotation would apply to the way pro-lifers are treated by the trend-setters of today: the media, Parliament, the radical feminists, even by the courts and certain religious leaders.

The second step leading to eugenics came in 1858 with Charles Darwin’s theory of “natural selection,” followed, in 1883, by the coining of the word “eugenics” by a cousin of Darwin’s, Francis Galton.

The practical application of Darwin’s theory is well known to horticulturalists, farmers and stockbreeders. For example, Canadians have developed new varieties of wheat which require shorter growing time, and which resist disease. By cross-breeding we now have tomatoes with tougher skins, that can be harvested more cheaply by machine, for soup production. Our gardens have new varieties of flowers and shrubs more suited to local soil and climate. The list is endless. In developing new varieties of plants only superior specimens are chosen for the next generation, the rest are discarded. A similar process of selective breeding is used, e.g., to improve beef or dairy stock, pigs etc., only the best are allowed to breed. Eugenics is an attempt to extend this process in order to control the heredity of future generations of humanity.


Eugenics is defined as a “study of possibility of improving humanity by altering this genetic composition by encouraging breeding of those presumed to have desirable genes, and discouraging breeding of those presumed to have undesirable genes.” There is a last and telling sentence: “It is rarely known which is which.” (A Dictionary of Biology, Penguin Reference Books). Dr. Lifton is equally scathing: “Despite its [eugenics] evolutionary claims, and later references to genetic laws, it has no scientific standing.”

Its lack of scientific standing did not prevent eugenics from flourishing not only in the United States but also in Western Europe. Eleven European countries are said to have legalized coercive sterilization, but others, including Britain, strongly opposed such legislation. The promoters of sterilization laws stressed two major aims: bio-medical, to prevent the spread of inherited disorders; political, to prevent “national degradation” and/or to create “a master race” which would be not only white, but Nordic. (The Germans used the term “Aryan” which has no racial meaning, though it does have a connection with language). It was the pseudo-science of “racial-biology” that carried eugenics in Germany beyond sterilization, beyond the killing of handicapped babies and adults, to the gas ovens and genocide in extermination camps.

Pre-war rebuttal

The excesses of the Nazi policies after they came into power in 1933, led three distinguished British scientists to publish We Europeans in rebuttal of racial-biology.

The book, published in 1935, became virtually required reading for my fellow students (pre-World War II) in universities in Britain in Departments of Geography, Ethnography and Anthropology. On re-reading it some time ago, I decided the Preface was worth the price of the book. It reads, in part:
“One of the greatest enemies of science is pseudo-science. In a scientific age, prejudice and passion seek to clothe themselves in a garb of scientific respectability; and when they cannot find support from true science, they invent a pseudo-science to justify themselves. We all know that the Devil can quote Scripture for his own purpose; today we are finding that he can even invent a false Scripture from which to quote.

“Nowhere is this lamentable state of affairs more pronounced than in regard to ‘race.’ A vast pseudo-science of ‘racial-biology’ has been erected which serves to justify political ambition, economic ends, social grudges, class prejudice.

“The purpose of this book is to bring together the chief scientific facts now available on the subject of ‘race’ in man – in other words the genetic differences between human groups, and to present them in the light of established scientific principles. . . .

“One of the main conclusions to emerge . . . is the extent of our scientific ignorance in this fundamental subject. Such ignorance ill accords with the passionate exclamations of certitude which are to be heard in certain quarters. However, it is a matter of observation that passion thrives on ignorance and that dogmatic certitude is a pathetic attempt to find a substitute for patient knowledge which is always humbly conscious of its inevitable limitations.” (We Europeans, Julian Huxley, B.C. Haddon, A.M. Carr Saunders, Penguin 1935). Huxley’s name will surprise some pro-life people, but the book is about racial-biology. It does not deal in bio-medical issues.

I cannot refrain from quoting an excerpt from We Europeans which targets those who claim superior qualities for the Nordic “race.” The quotation says that Aristotle gave “cogent reasons for thinking that Nordic barbarians as well as the Asiatic peoples were inherently incapable of rising to the level of Greek achievements. The inhabitants of northern climates, he says, though endowed with plenty of spirit, are wanting in intelligence and skill, while the reverse is true of the Asiatics. The Greeks on the other hand are endowed with both sets of qualities.”
(Aristotle, Politics VII). Neither Hitler nor Margaret Sanders would be amused.

In 1990, George Grant wrote: Stalin saw the slaughter of 15 million Ukrainian Kulaks; Mussolini massacred six million Africans, two million Entreans, and a million Slavs; Hitler exterminated six million Jews, two million Slavs, a million Poles [plus another two million]; but Margaret Sanger was responsible for the brutal murder of over 20 million children in the United States and as many as one and a half billion world wide. Since 1990 the numbers have escalated.

Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League (later, in 1942, hastily renamed Planned Parenthood) was an ardent Malthusian and eugenicist. Her books and her magazine The Birth Control Review, reveal her as a racist, a radical feminist, anti-Christian, a leader of the sexual revolution, and an opponent of the institution of marriage.” She did, however, marry twice, both times to very wealthy men whose fortunes she used to further her aims.

Her most quoted book, The Pivot of Civilization, was published in 1922. In it, she called for the eradication of “human weeds” that were “a menace to civilization.” She regarded organized charity to the poor and ethnic minorities as “a symptom of a malignant and social disease,” and she condemned those who gave help as “benign imbeciles who encourage the defective and diseased elements of society in their reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning.”  She looked forward to (what the Socialists promised) the end of the Christian “reign of benevolence, when the choking undergrowth . . . of morons and imbeciles . . . would be segregated and sterilized.”

In 1932, her magazine, The Birth Control Review, called for coercive sterilization, mandatory segregation and rehabilitative concentration camps for all “dysgenic stocks,” i.e., stocks causing racial deterioration. She was a great admirer of the Third Reich’s sterilization and “racial cleansing” programs and was in close communication with the leaders of Hitler’s eugenic efforts. In 1933, her Review published an article, Eugenic Sterilization: an Urgent Need, by the German Ernst Rudin. It was the same Ernst Rudin who has been called “the predominant medical presence in the Nazi sterilization program.” In 1943, in an article celebrating 10 years of National Socialist rule, he wrote an article in which he praised Hitler’s “decisive . . . path-breaking step towards making social hygiene a fact among the German people . . . and inhibiting the propagation of the congenitally ill and inferior.”

He praised the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which prohibited marriage, or any sexual contact, between Jews and non-Jews. He also praised the SS for “its ultimate goal, the creation of a medically superior and healthy people of German Nordic type.” By 1943, however, Margaret Sanger was in retreat; the United States was at war, Nazi atrocities were being uncovered; it had been expedient in 1942 to change the name of the Nazi-tainted American Birth Control League to the euphemism Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The UN and IPPF

Disclosures of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps and poison-gas chambers, plus the evidence at the Nuremberg Medical Trials, put a brake on Margaret Sanger’s efforts – but not for long. Within a few short years the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) was founded, Malthusianism was once more flourishing and discussions in the United nations included references to the “new menace” of over-population “which was blighting the prospects of social and economic development of The Third World.” Whilst the media in Western Europe and North America were busily predicting world famine, the Non Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) such as the Population Council and IPPF were putting the agenda of sterilization, contraception, and abortion into effect.

In 1966, the UN General Assembly, in a unanimous vote, passed a resolution (Population Growth and Economic Development) calling for support for governments with programs for population control. One year later, 1968, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) was established. (In the last 30 years UNFPA has bankrolled billions for abortions, sterilizations and contraceptives). With hindsight it is now easy to see that by 1974, and the Population conference at Bucharest, a world-wide campaign against the preborn child, and the fertility of many in poor areas (e.g., the forced sterilizations in India) was underway. Even by Cairo, two decades later, some pro-life people were still unaware of the potential disaster, and the role of the UN.

The media also played their part, and Paul Ehrlich was in a leading role. In The Population Bomb (1968) be proclaimed: “The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famine – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Despite his failure as a prophet his book was a 20-million best seller..

Author Lifton said that the first step to Auschwitz and mass murders was sterilization; and Germany was not alone in taking the first step. But despite the Nuremberg Trials, many countries have taken the second step; the killing of “impaired children” in hospitals; and the third step, the killing of “impaired” adults in hospitals. In most cases this killing has not been made legal by laws passed by a legislature, but instead by the courts. G.K. Chesterton might have included such judges with those he said combined “a hardening of the heart with a sympathetic softening of the head.”

It is sad, but true that people, who otherwise oppose abortion, vote to allow it if the preborn child is less than perfect; that the direct killing of an older child who is handicapped is not seen as serious a crime as the murder of a normal child; that euthanasia, pseudonym for murder, is tolerated in Holland. In Back to Freedom and Dignity, Francis Schaeffer summed up the situation at the end of the 20th century. He said that modern man had placed himself in a position “where the concept [of man’s dignity] is gone. We are in a post-Christian world. Man is junk, and man can be treated as junk. If the embryo is in the way, ditch it. If the old person is in the way, ditch him. If you’re in the way . . . and that’s what lies before us.”

Schaeffer was by no means a defeatist in this statement; but as a realist he saw what was ahead of mankind – Lifton’s steps to Auschwitz, numbers four and five. He, as a strong Christian with complete trust in God, believed that to regain the concept of the dignity of mankind, and the intrinsic value of every human being from fertilization to natural death, we must find our way back to a world where God’s law is supreme and the basis for our legal system.

For pro-lifers to help find that way back will take prayer, fasting, sacrifice and hard, hard work.