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Parentage

social, mother, life, child, birth, human and health

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PARENTAGE There are three distinct sets of problems involved in this one of a normal beginning of life, according as they center about (I) parentage, (2) the period before birth, and (3) the life of the infant in the first year or two after birth.

Heredity is a fact of human life of which not merely the individual in his private relations, but the community in its broader social relations, must take account. Normally like tends to beget like. It is sound human policy to prevent the conception of human beings who are to be cursed from the very origin of life with an irremediable handicap. There is a blight on the blessing in the motherhood of an imbecile child. There is no inalienable right to be the father of tainted, diseased, degenerate off spring. As to the early steps in this particular policy of social construction, the evidence is all in. Modern science has demonstrated that no feeble minded mother, no syphilitic mother, no alcoholic mother, and no mother of a child whose father is alcoholic, feeble-minded, or syphilitic, may expect to give birth to a normal child. We cannot say that it never occurs. In the old polytheistic days a human mother sometimes gave birth to a divinity, and there are about equal chances of a similar mir acle in the bringing forth of health from degeneracy.

The first step then is clear. Those who are demonstrably unfit for parentage—the imbecile, the incurably insane, the epileptic, and those who suffer from such diseases as directly afflict off spring—should be firmly and consistently con trolled. So far as defectives and incurables are concerned, this should be done preferably in cus todial institutions, humanely conducted colonies, where the capacities of the patients may be exer cised for their own good and that of their com panions; but if not in such institutions, then in some other way, by adequate home supervision when there are sufficient resources for it and suffi cient guarantee that it will be exercised, by surgi cal operation in suitable cases, though conserva tives on this subject would prefer that such opera tions should be performed, for the present, not as a result of specific legislation, but, like other medical and surgical treatment, only when the health of the patient also justifies it and then on the professional responsibility of the physician in charge.

To eliminate the ravages of the venereal dis eases it is necessary that they be brought under public control by means of the program which has been tested with respect to other infectious dis eases: compulsory notification to the Board of Health of all affected persons known to institutions and to private physicians; free laboratory assist ance in making Wassermann tests and other aids to diagnosis; a very considerable increase in pro vision for treatment, both in hospitals and in clin ics; popular education about the consequences of these diseases to wife—or husband—and child, about their long and insidious course, and the treat ment essential to cure.

That unfit marriages should be prevented, and also such illegitimate births as would be barred by the same standard, is the foundation-stone of social control. That is only the beginning, but perhaps it may be also the end, of compulsion in the regu lation of marriages and births. For the state is but one among many agencies of social action. There are many things that can be done through the voluntary principle. The responsibility for wise mating, for improvement of the racial stock through judicious marriage, would better remain where it is for the present—on the parties to the marriage contract, their parents, their spiritual advisers, and their matchmaking friends. Educa tion is needed; improved facilities in parks and parlors for legitimate courtship are needed; more rational standards of living, in which substantial values and genuine necessities receive more em phasis and artificial luxuries less; but all these things are to be secured through discussion, through the survival of sensible ideas, through the con tagion of high ideals, rather than by any form of coercion. A social program does not necessarily mean a program of legislation.

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