Vital Signs

Has America Lost Her Moral Gag Reflex?

Since 1935, a branch of psychiatry specializing in hereditary illnesses and abnormalities known as “behavioral eugenics” has been warning of rampant mental illness.  Dr. Franz J. Kallmann, who came to America in the mid-1930’s after having served under Ernst Rüdin, head of Hitler’s “racial hygiene” program, argued in favor of “psychiatric genetics” even after he arrived on American shores to escape the Third Reich’s henchmen.  He claimed that, if something were not done soon, schizophrenics would outnumber normal individuals.  He and several like-minded colleagues advised initiating a screening program to “counsel against” reproductive rights for those showing evidence of, or suspected of being at future risk of, any form of mental illness.

What is and is not symptomatic of “mental illness” is open to interpretation.  According to Dr. Kallmann, for example, schizophrenics included “daydreamers, cranks, being cold-hearted or unsociable, persons showing sudden urges in temperament, emotional inadequacy, obstinacy, or superstition.”  In just the past couple of years, however, television has been awash in advertisements for such drugs as Paxil and Zoloft, marketed for “social inadequacy,” a term eerily reminiscent of Kallmann’s terminology.  Like most categories of mental afflictions listed...

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