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“A Rational Coalition”: Euthanasia, Eugenics, and Birth Control in America, 1940–1970

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2009

Ian Dowbiggin
University of Prince Edward Island


In 1940, at the second annual meeting of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA), its first president, Charles Francis Potter (1885–1962), rose to give a speech. “Euthanasia, or merciful release from suffering,” Potter declared, “is rapidly emerging from the stage when it was considered merely the obsession of a few left-wing social reformers to the period when it is being recognized as an important social measure in the same class with birth control and eugenics.” Almost thirty years later, at another ESA gathering, clergyman Henry Pitney Van Dusen said much the same thing. “Popular attention centers on the Planned Parenthood movement at the other end of life,” Van Dusen declared, and “[e]uthanasia is concerned with the responsible termination of life. The more we can relate these two movements practically the better, because they are both concerned with the responsible care of human life, one at its beginning and the other at its end.”

Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 2002

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1. “Euthanasia: An Important Social Measure,” 16 January 1940 address to the Euthanasia Society of America, Partnership for Caring Records, Lewis Associates, Baltimore, Maryland, Box C-4 (hereafter cited as PFC). My emphasis. For Van Dusen's comments of 23 November 1968, at the First Euthanasia Conference of the Euthanasia Educational Fund, see The Right to Die with Dignity (New York: Euthanasia Educational Fund, Inc., 1971). In 1975, Van Dusen and his wife, she suffering from debilitating arthritis and he from the effects of a severe stroke, committed joint suicide. In the words of one commentator, they felt there was little dignity left in their lives and “didn't like the idea of taking up space in a world with too many mouths and too little food.” This comment indicates that justifications for euthanasia did not just derive from eugenic sources but were also advanced for population control reasons. “Suicide Pact Preceded Deaths of Dr. Van Dusen and his Wife,” New York Times, 26 February 1975, 1; “The Right to Die,” Saturday Review, 14 June 1975, 4. For an incisive account of how population control issues shaped the abortion and family planning movements, see Critchlow, Donald T., Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America (New York, 1999)Google Scholar.

2. “Eugenics” is the term coined in 1883 by Francis Galton (1822–1911), Charles Darwin's cousin, based on the Greek word for “well-born.” Galton's own definitions of eugenics changed over time, which helps to account for its shifting meanings since his day. However, eugenics is commonly defined as the science of good breeding, or the ability to choose the kind of children we (as individuals and society) wish. This latter definition includes many of the reproductive technologies available today, such as genetic screening, in vitro fertilization, and sperm banks. For the “protean” things eugenics has meant to different people over time, see Paul, Diane B., Controlling Human Heredity: 1865 to the Present (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1995), 2Google Scholar. See also Duster, Troy, Backdoor to Eugenics (London: Routledge, 1990)Google Scholar. The version of eugenics that appealed to Americans after World War II and was most relevant to the people discussed in this article is best defined as “reform eugenics,” the term Daniel Kevles has coined to describe the approach toward reproduction and genetics favored by individuals who rejected the obvious race and class prejudices of prior generations of eugenicists. Reform eugenicists were inclined to replace the older, rigid hereditarianism that had marked the early eugenics movement with theories that also emphasized the influence of environment over the health of future generations. Common to both “mainline” and “reform” eugenicists, however, was a deep faith in the need and practicality of social engineering. Kevles, Daniel J., In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York, 1985), 172173Google Scholar.

As for euthanasia, it is a term taken from the Greek word meaning “good death.” Before the twentieth century, it was largely considered to mean letting nature take its course while providing whatever doses of drugs were necessary to make the experience as painless as possible. In the twentieth century, euthanasia has been mainly identified with the notion of mercy killing, yet over the course of the last few decades, as interest has grown in the issue, people increasingly have become aware of the distinctions between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. For a discussion of pre-twentieth-century euthanasia and these distinctions, see Filene, Peter G., In the Arms of Others: A Cultural History of the Right-to-Die (Chicago, 1998), 34, 100–101, 191–93Google Scholar. Throughout the period described by this article, euthanasia was understood by both its supporters and opponents as active euthanasia, that is, the hastening of death by a doctor, rather than passive euthanasia, or the removal of treatment that kept someone alive.

3. Nancy Mamis to Robert Kotlowitz, 24 February 1966, PFC, Box C-2. See also “Address by Dr. Joseph Fletcher, Society for the Right to Die Annual Meeting, 9 December 1986,” PFC, Box F-4.

4. For an example of this kind of thinking on the part of American social scientists, see James Jones's biography of the sexologist Kinsey, Alfred, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life (New York, 1997), especially 751Google Scholar.

5. This historiographic oversight is all the more curious since there is a considerable literature on the connections between the eugenics and euthanasia movements in Nazi Germany. For the history of German eugenics in particular and Nazi medicine in general, including the Third Reich's euthanasia program, see Lifton, Robert Jay, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York, 1986)Google Scholar; Proctor, Robert N., Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis (Cambridge, Mass., 1988)Google Scholar; Weindling, Paul, Health, Race, and German Politics Between National Unification and Nazism (Cambridge, 1989)Google Scholar; Kater, Michael H., Doctors Under Hitler (Chapel Hill, 1989)Google Scholar; Aly, Gotz, Chroust, Peter, and Pross, Christian, Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, trans. Cooper, Belinda (Baltimore, 1994)Google Scholar; Burleigh, Michael, Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia” in Germany, 1900–1945 (Cambridge, 1994)Google Scholar; Friedlander, Henry, The Origin of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (Chapel Hill, 1995)Google Scholar.

6. For the history of American eugenics, see Haller, Mark H., Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, N.J., 1963)Google Scholar; Pickens, Donald K., Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, 1969)Google Scholar; Ludmerer, Kenneth M., Genetics and American Society: A Historical Appraisal (Baltimore, 1972)Google Scholar; Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics; Mehler, Barry Alan, “A History of the American Eugenics Society, 1921–1940” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 1988)Google Scholar; Reilly, Philip R., The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States (Baltimore, 1991)Google Scholar; Larson, Edward J., Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (Baltimore, 1995)Google Scholar; Hasian, Marouf A., The Rhetoric of Eugenics in Anglo-American Thought (Athens, Ga., 1996)Google Scholar; Dowbiggin, Ian R., Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880–1940 (Ithaca, 1997)Google Scholar; Rafter, Nicole H., Creating Born Criminals: Biological Theories of Crime and Eugenics (Urbana, 1997)Google Scholar.

7. The best treatment of the topic so far is Martin Pernick, S., The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York, 1996)Google Scholar. See also Kuepper, Stephen Louis, “Euthanasia in America, 1890–1960: The Controversy, the Movement, and the Law” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1981), 98127Google Scholar; Garrett, Valerie, “The Last Civil Right? Euthanasia Policy and Politics in the United States, 1938–1991” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Santa Barbara, 1998)Google Scholar. An account of how Christians have viewed euthanasia over the centuries, and which also dispels myths spread by current defenders of physician-assisted suicide, is Larson, Edward J. and Amundsen, Darrell W., A Different Death: Euthanasia and the Christian Tradition (Downers Grove, Ill., 1998)Google Scholar. For the links between American and Nazi advocates of eugenics and euthanasia, see Kuhl, Stefan, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (New York, 1994), especially 100–102Google Scholar. For “the close, often uncomfortable relationship” between the eugenics and birth control movements in particular, see Soloway, Richard A., “The ‘Perfect Contraceptive’: Eugenics and Birth Control Research in Britain and America in the Interwar Years,” Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995): 637664, at 637CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Close ties among the eugenics, euthanasia, and birth control movements were not limited to the United States. See Dowbiggin, Ian, “‘A Prey on Normal People’: C. Killick Millard and the Euthanasia Movement in Great Britain, 1930–1955,” Journal of Contemporary History 36 (2001): 5985CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8. McGreevy, John T., “Thinking on One's Own: Catholicism in the American Intellectual Imagination, 1928–1960,” Journal of American History 84 (1997): 97131, at 98CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This article also confirms Donald Critchlow's thesis that “the ability of groups, whether a small collection of powerful individuals or democratically mobilized interests, to affect public policy remains dependent on the larger culture” (Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 9). Among population control liberals, “family planning became an ideology in itself,” writes Critchlow (18). For a similar characterization of twentieth-century liberalism, see Gottfried, Paul Edward, After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (Princeton, 1999)Google Scholar. Of course, the appeal of post–World War II eugenics in America was not limited to liberal, progressive circles. See Winston, Andrew S., “Science in the Service of the Far Right: Henry E. Garrett, the IAAEE, and the Liberty Lobby,” Journal of Social Issues 54 (1998): 179210CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9. The ESA, now a part of Partnership for Caring: America's Voices for the Dying, a national, nonprofit consumer organization devoted to improving care for the dying and their families, has been in the forefront of the twentieth-century campaign to establish a right to die for Americans. This is just the latest in a series of reorganizations and name changes the ESA has undergone since its inception in 1938. By the 1970s the old ESA had divided into the Society for the Right to Die (SRD) and the Euthanasia Educational Council (EEC). In 1978 the EEC became Concern for Dying (CFD) and split from the SRD in 1980. Then in 1991 the SRD and CFD reunited as Choice in Dying. Seven years later, Choice in Dying decided to dissolve its corporate identity and take most of its programs and staff into Partnership for Caring.

10. Now called EngenderHealth, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and dedicated to promoting surgical contraceptive practices especially in overpopulated countries, it was largely responsible for making tubal ligation the most popular form of contraception among contemporary American women between the ages of fifteen and forty-five. Piccinino, L. J. and Mosher, W. D., “Trends in Contraceptive Use in the United States,” Family Planning Perspectives 30 (0102 1998): 410CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Moore, M., “Most U.S. Couples Who Seek Surgical Sterilization Do So for Contraception; Fewer than 25% Desire Reversal,” Family Planning Perspectives 31 (0304 1999): 102CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. For exceptions, see Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America”; Vanessendelft, William Ray, “A History of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, 1935–1964” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1978)Google Scholar. See also Philip R. Reilly's informative The Surgical Solution, 120–21, 131–35, 144–47; and Shapiro, Thomas M., Population Control Politics: Women, Sterilization, and Reproductive Choice (Philadelphia, 1985), 5458, 137–70Google Scholar.

12. Those who have written about the life and career of Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) have debated the exact nature of her frequent references to the eugenics dimension of birth control. What no biographer of Sanger has observed is that she, like Annie Besant, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and other birth control activists before her, was also an ardent supporter of the legalization of euthanasia. For Gilman's suicide and defense of both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, see Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, “The Right to Die—I,” Forum Magazine, vol. 94, 1935, 297300Google Scholar. As Sanger maintained in 1951, birth control and euthanasia were part of a single project designed “to bring the entrance into life” and the “exit of life … under control of reason.” Sanger quoted by Eleanor Dwight Jones, Jones to Mr. [?] Churchill, 24 April 1951, PFC, Box C-1. If, as I argue, it is hard to disentangle eugenics, euthanasia, and birth control in the thinking of reformers like Sanger, then it suggests that her often positive opinions about eugenics can neither be dismissed as secondary interests nor reduced to mere rhetorical strategies to gain support for birth control. For variations on this interpretation of Sanger, see Reed, James, From Private Vice to Public Virtue: The Birth Control Movement and American Society Since 1830 (New York, 1978)Google Scholar; Chesler, Ellen, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York, 1992)Google Scholar; and McCann, Carole R., Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916–1945 (Ithaca, 1994)Google Scholar. See also Kennedy, David, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (New Haven, 1970)Google Scholar. Gordon, Linda, in her Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America (Harmondsworth, 1977)Google Scholar, largely agreed with Kennedy, but in recent years has modified her views. See her Preface to the revised (1990) edition of Woman's Body, Woman's Right, v–ix. Other biographies of Margaret Sanger included Lader's, LawrenceThe Margaret Sanger Story (New York, 1955)Google Scholar, and Gray's, MadelineMargaret Sanger (New York, 1979)Google Scholar. While there is no discounting Sanger's primary interest in birth control, her example and that of others like her demonstrate that the triangular nexus among eugenics, euthanasia, and birth control survived long after the end of World War II.

13. For an expression of this perception, see Mrs. [Eleanor Dwight] Robertson Jones to Guy Shipler, 18 February 1947, PFC, Box C-1. For an account of the debates between modernists and orthodox Christians in twentieth-century America, see Larson, Edward J., Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (New York, 1997), especially 33–34, 116–21Google Scholar; Conkin, Paul K., When All the Gods Trembled: Darwinism, Scopes, and American Intellectuals (Lanham, Md., 1998)Google Scholar. See also Hutchison, William R., The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, Mass., 1976)Google Scholar.

14. Ross, Dorothy, The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge, 1991), 328329Google Scholar.

15. See Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, 24–40. See also Miller, Robert Moats, American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919–1939 (Chapel Hill, 1958)Google Scholar; Robinson, David, The Unitarians and the Universalists (Westport, Conn., 1985)Google Scholar.

16. For an insightful discussion of the historical tension between similar definitions of individualism and the quest for a sense of community and solidarity, see McClay, Wilfred M., The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (Chapel Hill, 1994), especially 226–95Google Scholar.

17. This is not to deny that personality conflicts and differences of opinion, of which there were many, created hard-to-mend rifts among these educated, normally strong-willed individuals. Gender, too, was a divisive factor; women who joined the ESA and AVS often contested the patronizing attitude of men, who were convinced that they should wield exclusive control and dictate strategy. For reflections on this theme, see McCann, Birth Control Politics, 197–98.

18. Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 9.

19. In 1984 it was renamed the Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception and in 1994 AVSC International. For Moore's involvement with AVS, see Hugh Moore Fund Collection, Seeley G. Mudd Library, Princeton University, Box 15, Folders 1–15 (hereafter cited as HM).

20. Marian Olden was born Marian Stephenson. Olden was the surname of her fourth and last husband, Roger G. Olden, whom she married in 1941. In 1943 she began spelling Marian with an “a” instead of an “o” so correspondents would not mistake her for a man. Vannessendelft, “A History of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, 1935–1964,” 16n.

21. The bulk of Olden's papers can be found in the records of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (hereafter cited as AVS). For the history of Georgia's sterilization law, see Larson, Edward J., “Belated Progress: The Enactment of Eugenic Legislation in Georgia,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 46 (1991): 4464CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

22. Reilly, The Surgical Solution, 120–21.

23. Marian Olden to Charles Potter, 2 February 1947, PFC, Box C-4.

24. Vanessendelft, “A History of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, 1935–1964,” 37–38.

25. Morris, Charles R., American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church (New York, 1997), 195Google Scholar.

26. Ibid., 165–227. See also Cooney, John, The American Pope: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman (New York, 1984)Google Scholar.

27. Morris, American Catholic, 153–54, 354–59. See also Allitt, Patrick, Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950–1985 (Ithaca, 1993), 163166Google Scholar. For the impact of Freudianism, see Burnham, John C., “The Influence of Psychoanalysis upon American Culture,” in Burnham, John C., ed., Paths into American Culture: Psychology, Medicine, and Morals (Philadelphia, 1988), 96112Google Scholar. Kinsey's data have not stood the test of time. For confirmation, see Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey.

28. See the minutes of the HBAA debate of 3 April 1963, AVS, SWD 15, Box 5, Folder 43.

29. For an example of this attitude, see Irene Headley Armes to Douglas Arant, 9 November 1950, AVS, SWD 15, Box 4, Folder 33.

30. Before the 1970s, demographic, environmental, and eugenic concerns tended to overshadow women's rights issues for AVS members. But the presence in AVS ranks of many women who had played constructive roles in the birth control movement indicated that interests in expanding women's reproductive choices were far from absent. Indeed, since the 1970s women's reproductive health and “informed choice” in contraception have become the cornerstones of the organization's mission alongside population control. See Anne Howat,” AVSC News 38 (Spring 2000)Google Scholar (

31. Ruth Proskauer Smith to Harry Emerson Fosdick, 28 April 1959, AVS, SW 15.1, Box 23. Sentiments of this nature made it possible for the AVS to attract birth control activists from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). These PPFA renegades were impatient with that organization's reluctance to approve of sterilization as a family planning method or address the question of the fertility of the mentally handicapped.

32. H. Curtis Wood to Robert Latou Dickinson, 22 November 1948, AVS, SWD 15, Box 2, Folder 15.

33. As Wood wrote in 1969, “The one big thing I would like to see A.V.S. accomplish is to put pressure in the right places so all women, black or white, rich or poor are offered all methods of fertility control at our hospitals, and public health and welfare institutions.” H. Curtis Wood to Louise Mills, 16 August 1969, HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 8.

34. For an example of Catholic pressure on physicians who supported birth control, see Sister Anna Rita to Armand M. DeRosa, M.D., 8 January 1942, AVS, SWD 15, Box 1, Folder 4. In 1945 part of the AVS membership wanted to reprint Harold E. Fey's series of articles from the Christian Century entitled “Can Catholicism Win America?” The articles raised the specter of Catholics winning “control” of America thanks to the influence of the Pope over the minds of U.S. Catholics. Vanessendelft, “A History of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, 1935–1964,” 101.

35. Reilly, The Surgical Solution, 144. For other examples of Catholic hospitals pressuring doctors if they did not sever their connections with birth control organizations, see AVS, SWD15, Box 11, Folder 94.

36. Vanessendelft, “A History of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization,” 220.

37. Fosdick quoted by Wood, in Wood, , “The Case for Voluntary Sterilization,” The Humanist 29 (1969): 3Google Scholar. See also Wood, H. Curtis, “Sterilization: A Reasonable Alternative,” The Humanist 25 (1965): 1618Google Scholar; Wood, “The Case for Voluntary Sterilization,” 3–4; Olden to Fosdick, 22 May 1945, Fosdick to Olden, 14 June 1945, AVS, SWD 15, Box 2, Folder 12. For more on Fosdick, see Conkin, When All the Gods Trembled, 121–28.

38. For Fosdick's comments on “planned parenthood” and the ESA, see Fosdick, Harry Emerson, The Living of These Days: An Autobiography (New York, 1956), 284285Google Scholar.

39. The Society for Ethical Culture was founded by Felix Adler (1851–1933), a scholar who taught at Columbia and Cornell. In 1891 Adler publicly defended the right of chronic invalids to request “a cup of relief” from their physicians. See his An Ethical Philosophy of Life: Presented in Its Main Outlines (Hicksville, N.Y., 1975; reprint of 1919 edition), 154162Google Scholar. Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 31–32. For the definition of religion embraced by the Society for Ethical Culture, see the masthead to its journal, The Ethical Outlook (formerly The Standard). See also Black, Algernon D., “Can Humanism Meet Man's Spiritual need?The Humanist 19 (1959): 195206Google Scholar; “Algernon Black, Leader of Society for Ethical Culture, Is Dead,” New York Times, 11 May 1993, B6. For Black's theory of how euthanasia is consistent with Ethical Culture, see Larue, Gerald A., Euthanasia and Religion: A Survey of the Attitudes of World Religions to the Right-to-Die (Los Angeles: The Hemlock Society, 1985), 127130Google Scholar. One of Black's quotations included in this volume is an excerpt taken from a Black speech on 3 March 1963 to the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Black was one of a group of public figures, including Linus Pauling, Sidney Hook, and Ernest Nagel, who in 1974 signed “A Plea for Beneficent Euthanasia” (The Humanist [July–August 1974], 4–5). Another well-known Society for Ethical Culture figure was Benjamin Miller, who delivered the address “Euthanasia and the Ethics of Self-Fulfillment” at the ESA annual meeting of 19 January 1959 (ESA Bulletin [March–April], 2–4).

40. See Irving, Allan, Brock Chisholm: Doctor to the World (Markham, Ontario, 1998), 132Google Scholar. Chisholm's, acceptance speech upon being elected “Humanist of the Year” was “Safe Conformity Is Dangerous,” The Humanist 19 (1959): 323330Google Scholar.

41. Blanshard, Paul, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, 1949), 152Google Scholar. Blanshard also attacked the Church for directing Catholic judges to prevent eugenic sterilization laws from operating where they were on the statute books (51–52). For other Blanshard references to eugenics, see chapter 7, “Sex, Birth Control, and Eugenics,” 132–55. In 1951 he confided in an AVS official that he was “thinking of a work which would attempt to popularize eugenic ideals.” Blanshard to Irene Headley Armes, 4 October 1951, AVS, SW 15.1, Box 22.

42. Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, 154. Blanshard's personal papers are housed at the Bentley Historical Library, the University of Michigan.

43. Garrison, Winfred E., Catholicism and the American Mind (Chicago, 1928), 200Google Scholar. Quoted in McGreevy, “Thinking on One's Own,” 106–7.

44. In 1967, the ESA decided to form the Euthanasia Educational Fund (renamed the Euthanasia Education Council in 1972), a tax-exempt organization. The ESA was virtually dormant between 1967 and 1974, when it was revived as the Society for the Right to Die.

45. For Catholic opposition to euthanasia in the early years of the twentieth century, see Pernick, The Black Stork, 34–35.

46. Garrett, “The Last Civil Right?” 47–51.

47. See “Legalization of Voluntary Euthanasia: Statement on the Ethical Aspects by Fifty Religious Leaders of N.Y. State,” PFC, Box C-3.

48. Joining the Catholic Church in its attack on the ESA was the American Council of Christian Churches with its fifteen separate denominations and a million and a half members, as well as the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church. “Euthanasia Forbidden by the Bible,” News from the American Council of Christian Churches, February 1949, PFC, Box C-3.

49. For Potter's role at the Scopes Trial, see Larson, Summer for the Gods, 166–68, 157–58. See also Potter, Charles, Humanism: A New Religion (New York, 1930)Google Scholar. Potter's, autobiography is The Preacher and I (New York, 1951)Google Scholar.

50. Potter, Humanism: A New Religion, 14. See also Robinson, The Unitarians and the Universalists, 145–47.

51. “Lindsey and Barnes Assail Encyclical,” New York Times, 31 January 1931, 14. See also Barnes, Harry Elmer, The Twilight of Christianity (New York, 1929), 338350, 426–27, 456–60Google Scholar. See also Conkin, When All the Gods Trembled, 150–54.

52. Philbrick's bill represented only the second such attempt in U.S. history to that date. The first was in Ohio in 1906, when a single legislator introduced a voluntary euthanasia bill. It said that a competent individual, suffering from an incurable illness or fatal injury, could ask his or her physician to administer a lethal dose. The request would be granted if three other physicians agreed recovery was impossible (Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 38). One of Philbrick's main allies in her campaign to legalize euthanasia in Nebraska was Arthur L. Weatherly, a Unitarian minister from Lincoln. Inez Celia Philbrick Papers, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, MS 1058, Scrapbook (hereafter cited as ICP).

53. Eleanor Dwight Jones to Bert Voorhees, 14 February 1948; Jones to Harry S. Meserve, 23 February 1949, PFC, Box C-3. As the head of the English Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society wrote Jones in 1950: “It is rather remarkable that we should have so much in common–voluntary euthanasia, Unitarianism, birth control, [and] temperance.” C. Killick Millard to Jones, 3 September 1950, PFC, Box C-3. See also Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 114.

54. ESA officials were the first to admit that Unitarian ministers were “very much interested” in euthanasia. See Elizabeth Halsey to Mrs. M. Hughes, 7 October 1971, PFC, Box C-2. A former president of the Euthanasia Educational Council, Donald McKinney, himself a Unitarian minister, confirmed that Unitarians favored the legalization of euthanasia in a telephone interview with the author on 21 December 1999. For references to the support of Unitarians for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, see Humphry, Derek and Clement, Mary, Freedom to Die: People, Politics, and the Right-to-Die Movement (New York, 2000), 195, 271, 370Google Scholar. In 1988 the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations passed a national resolution affirming a right to die, becoming the first religious body in America to do so. See also Larue, Gerald, Playing God: Fifty Religious Views on Your Right to Die (Wakefield, R.I., 1996)Google Scholar.

55. Eleanor Dwight Jones to Lawrence B. Dunham, 3 November 1930, RG2 Medical Interests, Box 1, Rockefeller Family Archives, Tarrytown, New York. Quoted by Donald T. Critchlow, “Birth Control, Population Control, and Family Planning: An Overview,” in Critchlow, ed., The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective, 6. In 1933 Jones had proposed a merger between the American Birth Control League, of which she was president, and the American Eugenics Society. The merger never took place. See McCann, Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916–1945, 181. The list of ESA eugenicists included Henry H. Goddard, Edward A. Ross, Arthur A. Estabrook, William McDougall, Albert E. Wiggam, Wyllistine Goodsell, Samuel J. Holmes, Oscar Riddle, Clarence Cook Little, and Leon F. Whitney.

56. Conkin, When All the Gods Trembled, viii. Professor Richard Weikart has made the same point, based on his research on the history of German eugenics, euthanasia, and social Darwinism (Weikart, “Darwinism and Death,” paper presented at the West Coast History of Science Society, University of California, Berkeley, May 2000).

57. For Mitchell's role in founding the ESA, see Eleanor Dwight Jones to Inez Celia Philbrick, n.d., ICP, Folder 3. For Mitchell's views, see her correspondence with C. Killick Millard, head of the British Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society (VELS), Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, UK, SA/VES/A.19–20/Box 3 (hereafter cited as CMAC). Mitchell's ESA records are in PFC, Box E-1; see also Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 108. After disinheriting her two sons, Mitchell bequeathed the bulk of her estate to the ESA, and in the event it ceased to exist, the VELS. She had divorced her husband in June 1942, tried unsuccessfully to kill herself with an overdose of morphine on 24 September, and on 2 October threw herself out of a Miami hotel window.

58. One of the ESA's first presidents, the neurologist Foster Kennedy, argued that only compulsory euthanasia laws were warranted because the only people who truly needed mercy killing were those persons congenitally and hereditarily incapable of giving consent. Kennedy, Foster, “The Problem of Social Control of the Congenital Defective,” American Journal of Psychiatry 99 (1942): 14CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59. Eleanor Dwight Jones to Members of the ESA Advisory Council, ca. 1952, PFC, Box C-1.

60. There remained, however, a hard core of members who like Foster Kennedy felt “that euthanasia for imbeciles, idiots, and congenital monstrosities is even more important and should be included in our program” (Eleanor Dwight Jones to the Coronet Round Table, 17 November 1944, PFC, Box C-1). Most, like Potter, were willing to settle for the legalization of voluntary euthanasia because they believed that winning such a victory would act as “an entering wedge,” at least “stimulat[ing] discussion of euthanasia for mental defectives.” For Potter's comments, see the minutes of NSLE Board of Directors Meeting, 30 March 1938, PFC, Box C-1. See also form letter, n.d. (probably 1950), re: “another ‘mercy-killer’ is being prosecuted as a murderer,” PFC, Box C-1.

61. In 1959 the American Humanist Association adopted a resolution endorsing euthanasia. Euthanasia Society of America Bulletin 8 (1959): 14Google Scholar.

62. Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, 125–27. For a discussion of the sometimes fierce battles over the moral and ethical dimensions of euthanasia between the ESA and its religious foes, see Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 303–7. For the review of Blanshard's book, see Euthanasia Society of America Bulletin (August–September 1949): 4, cited in Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 306.

63. MacDougall, A. Kent, “Euthanasia: Murder or Mercy?” The Humanist, no. 1 (1958): 3847, at 41Google Scholar.

64. Filene, In the Arms of Others, 7–8. As one correspondent asked the ESA in 1960: “Is the Society completely inactive?” Mrs. Robert Avery to the ESA, 16 March 1960, PFC, Box C-2.

65. Garrett, “The Last Civil Right?” 143–297.

66. For the swapping of membership lists, see “Minutes of the Meeting of the [Birthright] Executive Committee,” 23 November 1943, AVS, SWD 15, Box 1, Folder 7; Mrs. Myron Goldstein to Mrs. Robert Edwards, 10 May 1950, PFC, Box C-1. See also Mrs. Robert Edwards to Birthright, 28 June 1949 [?], AVS, SWD 15, Box 2, Folder 16: “For the past few years we have exchanged membership lists with your organization to our mutual benefit.” Eleanor Dwight Jones of the ESA saw the symmetry among eugenics, euthanasia, and birth control. As she told Marian Olden, 28 May 1945, she “spoke as strongly as I could in favor of close cooperation between [PPFA] and Birthright, Inc. It seems to me that the two supplement each other. Neither movement can achieve its aim without the other.” AVS, SWD 15, Box 2, Folder 12.

67. One example of this kind of dilemma arose in 1965, when an ESA representative was invited to “The New Hampshire Conference on Population Problems.” Held in Concord, it featured speakers like Alan Guttmacher, president of Planned Parenthood–World Population, H. Curtis Wood of the AVS, Robert E. Hall, president of the Association for Humane Abortion, and Frederick Osborne of the American Eugenics Society. The ESA declined to accept the invitation to send a speaker on euthanasia under one umbrella … would tend to paralyze and possibly antagonize the press and public.” Nancy Mamis to Donald McKinney and Kay Mali, 29 July 1965, PFC, Box D-1. Addressing the issue of cooperation with other birth control associations, the AVS as late as 1983 conceded that advocacy of sterilization was “still controversial, and established family planning organizations are reluctant to risk their hard-won gains by advancing sterilization. AVS and the groups it collaborates with have nothing to lose and are able to take the heat” (Association for Voluntary Sterilization, Inc., 1983 Annual Report: Agency for International Development, Activity Data Sheet, FY84, 11; quoted in Kasun, Jacqueline, The War Against Population: The Economics and Ideology of Population Control [San Francisco, 1988], 178)Google Scholar.

68. “Sterilization,” Sanger concluded, is the best contraceptive method “in cases where the person's mentality is not adequate for the usual techniques necessary in regular birth control methods.” See “Copy,” “Addresses by Margaret Sanger,” and “Sterilization: A Modern Medical Program for Human Health and Welfare,” AVS, SW 15.1, Box 18, Sanger Folder. In her Woman of Valor, Ellen Chesler writes that the main reason for Sanger's PPFA speech was her “tragic regimen of drugs and alcohol” to dull the mounting pain she was feeling from her declining health. Yet, that ignores the fact that her comments were not all that different from what she had been writing and saying in the 1920s, when her health had been much better, and the fact that her pro-eugenic statements continued throughout the 1950s, belying Chesler's claim that Sanger “never mentioned the idea again.” Chesler, Woman of Valor, 417.

69. Margaret Sanger to CPB, 19 May 1953, CMAC, SA/EUG/Box 22, C. 304.

70. Margaret Sanger to Upton Sinclair, 17 February 1957, Margaret Sanger Papers, Collected Documents, Subseries 1, Correspondence, 1956–n.d. That these theories were no liability for Sanger in liberal circles was confirmed when, in 1957, the American Humanist Association named her Humanist of the Year. Harold R. Rafton to Sanger, 24 January 1957, in ibid.

71. Joseph Fletcher remembers joining the ESA along with Sanger during World War II. “Address by Dr. Joseph Fletcher, Society for the Right to Die Annual Dinner Meeting, 9 December 1986,” PFC, Box F-4.

72. Blanshard consulted with Dickinson when writing American Freedom and Catholic Power, and quoted him approvingly on several occasions in the book. Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, 7, 136, 140, 142.

73. For Dickinson's relationship to Alfred Kinsey, see Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, 291, 503–8. It was Dickinson who introduced Kinsey to “Mr. X,” the polymorphously erotic man whom Kinsey studied closely and on whom he based many of his theories about human sexual behavior.

74. James Reed has written that Dickinson was “a cautious supporter of euthanasia” (Reed, From Private Vice to Public Virtue, 153). That certainly was the view of Dickinson's daughter, Dorothy Dickinson Barbour, who insisted after his death that just before he passed away he was considering resigning from the ESA. Dorothy Dickinson Barbour to Mrs. Gertrude Anne Edwards, 12 February 1951, Box 1, Folder 42, Robert Latou Dickinson Papers, Francis Countway Library, Rare Books Department, Boston. On the other hand, Dickinson's active involvement in the ESA suggests that his feelings about euthanasia may have been considerably stronger. For Dickinson's vision of “a broad program to improve the quality of life,” see Reed, From Private Vice to Public Virtue, 185.

75. Garrow, David J., Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (New York, 1994), 270272, 275–85, 288–99, 308, 359, 361, 368, 384, 484, 507Google Scholar.

76. Among his friends and admirers was the writer Mencken, H. L.. “Alan Guttmacher, Pioneer in Family Planning, Dies,” New York Times, 19 03 1974, 40Google Scholar.

77. Guttmacher, Alan F., “Memorandum” (11 01 1962)Google Scholar and “The Place of Sterilization” (1964), AVS, SW 15.1, Box 16, Guttmacher Folder. Guttmacher also noted that “many of the PPFA Board are also on the Human Betterment Board, and vice versa.”

78. “Remarks by Ruth P. Smith at SRD's 50th Anniversary Celebration, December 7, 1988,” PFC, Uncatalogued.

79. Author interview with Ruth Proskauer Smith, 11 November 2000, New York City.

80. Smith, Ruth Proskauer to the Editor of the New York Post, 10 12 1959, AVS, SWD 15, Box 4, Folder 37Google Scholar. Her emphasis.

81. Ruth Proskauer Smith to John F. Kennedy, 20 July 1961, AVS, SW 15.1, Box 18, Ruth Proskauer Smith Folder. The Catholic Bishops were responding to the presidential committee report on U.S. foreign aid, chaired by retired General William Draper, a noted population control advocate and friend of later AVS president Hugh Moore. Draper concluded that there could be no realistic hopes for economic development in Asia and Latin America, no matter how much American foreign aid, unless steps were taken to reduce population growth. The Draper committee also urged funding for medical research into the physiology of human reproduction. See Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 41–45; see also Sharpless, John, “World Population Growth, Family Planning, and American Foreign Policy,” in Critchlow, Donald T., ed., The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (University Park, Pa., 1996), 72102, especially 85–86Google Scholar.

82. Quoted in Taylor, Richard, “Joseph Fletcher: The Father of Biomedical Ethics,” Free Inquiry (Spring 1984): 19Google Scholar. See also Fletcher, Joseph, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia, 1967), especially 26–31Google Scholar.

83. Fletcher, Situation Ethics, 84, 124. Like many of his generation who joined the right-to-die movement, Fletcher saw no inconsistency in defending both voluntary and involuntary sterilization and euthanasia. As late as 1979, he believed that compulsory sterilization was good for mentally handicapped patients and was justified from a social perspective as well. He also maintained that people whose pain, sickness, or infirmity were so severe as to compromise their ability to reason lost their quality of “personhood” and thus could be put to death out of compassion for their suffering. See Fletcher, Joseph, Morals and Medicine: The Moral Problems of the Patient's Right to Know the Truth About Contraception, Artificial Insemination, Sterilization, Euthanasia (Princeton, 1979; edition of first 1954 edition), 162169Google Scholar; Humanhood: Essays in Biomedical Ethics (New York, 1979), 16, 151–52Google Scholar.

84. Contact between HBAA and Fletcher dated back to 1953, due in part to the fact that he was the nephew of Irene Headley Armes (1855–1955), HBAA executive director until her death in 1955. During the 1950s, Fletcher had little to do formally with HBAA, though he told Ruth Proskauer Smith in 1956 to “count me in the company of your sympathizers. I only wish there was more I could do” (AVS, SW15.1, Supplement, Box 15, Fletcher Folder).

85. “Address by Dr. Joseph Fletcher, Society for the Right to Die Annual Dinner Meeting, 9 December 1986,” PFC, Box F-4.

86. The Euthanasia Educational Fund, among other parties, used this quote in its fund-raising and membership drives. See Donald W. McKinney's 3 November 1970 letter to “Fellow Unitarian-Universalists.” To McKinney, at the time vice president of the EEF, there was “no doubt that the questions of Euthanasia are as critical to our time as were those of family planning a generation or so ago” (PFC, Box D-1). McKinney was to change his mind in the 1970s, arguing that “death control is a far more awesome matter than birth control” (Donald W. McKinney, Whose Life Is It Anyway? Brooklyn First Unitarian Church, n.d., 2. PFC, Box D-1). McKinney was pastor at the Unitarian Riverside Drive Church in Brooklyn Heights. Author's telephone interview with Donald McKinney, 21 December 1999.

87. Filene, In the Arms of Others, 69–71; Patterson, James T., The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), 255280Google Scholar. The change from the “modern” to the “postmodern” patient has been described insightfully by Shorter, Edward in Bedside Manners: The Troubled History of Doctors and Their Patients (New York, 1986)Google Scholar.

88. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 251.

89. Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 131.

90. A recent and revealing look at Moore's contributions to the population control and birth control movements in twentieth-century America is Donald Critchlow's Intended Consequences, 4–5, 16–18, 20–33, 150–54.

91. As Moore stated in 1963, his interest in the AVS “was not primarily domestic but rather international—in the hope that through sterilization something might be done to ease the social strains which bring on war.” Hugh Moore to Ruth Proskauer Smith, 23 September 1963, HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 6. As Moore told John D. Rockefeller III in 1954, his support for birth control was based less on its “sociological or humanitarian aspects” than on “the use which Communists make of hungry people in their drive to conquer the earth.” Hugh Moore, Will L. Clayton, and Ellsworth Bunker to John D. Rockefeller III, 26 November 1954, RA, RG 2, Box 45. Quoted in Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 32.

92. Yet ties to the past were not entirely severed. Showing he both agreed with Wood's opinions and admired outspokenness, Moore kept H. Curtis Wood on as chief AVS medical consultant and defended him when Wood's sporadically contentious remarks aroused unwanted publicity in the media.

93. Moore, Hugh, “Dear Friend” letter, 11 1966, HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 7Google Scholar.

94. Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 151.

95. In 1972, he gave $1,000 to Compulsory Birth Control for all Americans. See the comments of Ennis, Edward J., General Counsel of the ACLU, at the AVS “National Conference on Voluntary Sterilization: Its Role in Averting World Starvation,” 28 11 1967Google Scholar; see also Frank Rosa to Hugh Moore, 23 November 1967, HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 3. Frederick Jaffe of PPFA and (later) the Alan Guttmacher Institute, wrote in 1970 that compulsory sterilization for all people with two children was necessary to slow U.S. population growth. Family Planning Perspectives, Special Supplement, U.S. Population Growth and Family Planning: A Review of the Literature, vol. 2, no. 4, October 1970, 24.

96. As Donald Critchlow argues, Moore's “anticommunism was largely rhetorical and was intended to rally American officials to support international family planning” (Intended Consequences, 16).

97. Hugh Moore to Cass Canfield, 10 December 1969, HM, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 15.

98. He told the ESA he had been “impressed with the meeting” and wanted to increase their financial support “in the hopes that the [ESA's] work may be facilitated.” Hugh Moore to Kay Mali, 26 December 1968, HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 29.

99. Moore, Hugh, “Atlantic Conference of the United Methodist Church,” 2 05 1972, PFC, Box E-1Google Scholar. See also “Contributions,” HM, Series 3, Box 15, Folder 29; “Estate of Hugh Moore,” 3 January 1974, PFC, Box E-1.

100. In 1974, Moore's widow, Louise Wilde Moore, married Joseph Van Vleck, a noted member of PPFA, IPPF, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). He died in 1985. Louise Van Vleck was still active in the euthanasia movement as late as 1990.

101. Russell, Olive Ruth, Freedom to Die: Moral and Legal Aspects of Euthanasia, rev. ed. (New York, 1977), 396Google Scholar.

102. McGreevy, “Thinking on One's Own,” 127–29. See also Cooney, The American Pope, 263–327.

103. Pius, Pope XII, “The Prolongation of Life,” The Pope Speaks, 4 (1958)Google Scholar. Cited in Zucker, Marjorie B., ed., The Right to Die Debate (Westport, Conn., 1999), 6263Google Scholar.

104. Woodman, Sue, Last Rights: The Struggle over the Right to Die (New York, 1998), 19Google Scholar. See also Filene, In the Arms of Others.

105. Humphry and Clement, Freedom to Die, 185, 187.

106. For the term “unencumbered self,” see Sandel, Michael J., “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self,” Political Theory 12 (1984): 8196CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also idem, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge, 1982)Google Scholar.

107. For thoughtful reflections on these issues, see McClay, Wilfred M., The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (Chapel Hill, 1994)Google Scholar.

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