Defining mental illness with genetics invokes eugenics

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Modern genetics doesn’t forcibly sterilize people. But fashionable theories around it put us in boxes just as eugenics once did, harmfully ignoring cultural and social differences and individual change.

Adam Cohen’s book, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, chronicles the horrors of the eugenics movement. It focuses on the 1927 Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell, in which an 8-1 majority upheld forced sterilization. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the decision: “It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

We all scorn eugenics today, recognizing its unscientific roots and its substitution of scientific terminology for prejudice. But we now kowtow to a virtually equivalent philosophy, one with no greater grounding in science—that is, the idea that mental illness and addiction are determined by our genes.


Of course, we don’t today allow forced sterilization based on genetics. But the implications of genetically-focused, biological psychiatry, for society and for individuals and families, are colossal.

The American biological/genetic mental illness and addiction movement trawls the globe for signs that all people share the same DSM disorders. The most thoroughgoing treatment of how ubiquitous and misguided is this global assault on cultural differences is Ethan Watters’ remarkable Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.

Read full, original post: The New Eugenics: Why Genetic Theories of Mental Illness and Addiction Are a Damaging Dead End

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