Daniel Carlat, MDDr. Carlat has disclosed that he has no significant relationships with or financial interests in any commercial companies pertaining to this educational activity.
As science continues to explore the genetic components of mental illness, concerns about eugenics cannot be far behind. Long before the days of prenatal diagnosis, and difficult decisions about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, there was a debate in the pages of the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1942 about actually killing so-called “feebleminded” people. Neurologist Foster Kennedy published an article arguing that at age five, “defective children” should be reviewed by a medical board, and if over time the board finds that “the defective has no future or hope of one, then I believe it is a merciful and kindly thing to relieve that defective – often tortured and convulsed, grotesque and absurd, useless and foolish and entirely undesirable – the agony of living.” Leo Kanner wrote against this notion, arguing that IQ score doesn’t predict a person’s worth to society, and that there are jobs best done by people with low IQ. While each of these positions is disturbing, and one hopes that this debate would not take place today, the specter of eugenics may rise again as psychiatry learns more about the genetics of mental illness.
Source: Joseph, J., “The 1942 ‘Euthanasia’ Debate in the American Journal of Psychiatry;” History of Psychiatry,2005.