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Eugenics and liberty

Eugenic science originated in Britain 100 years ago. Yet, unlike other western countries, Britain never passed eugenics legislation. Why? It was no thanks to the scientists, the conservatives or the socialists-but thanks to a bloody-minded backbencher in the House of Commons

Awakened by modern debates over genetic screening, eugenics is returning to haunt many countries. Last year Sweden was embarrassed by the disclosure that enforced sterilisation of allegedly feeble-minded people in the name of eugenics was still going on as late as 1976. In the US, Virginia continued to sterilise the mentally handicapped into the 1970s. There is, however, one omission from this list. Eugenics-the selective breeding of humans-was a British invention, yet in Britain the state never sterilised or killed anybody on eugenic grounds. Why not?

A century ago the eccentric British adventurer, mathematician and entrepreneur, Francis Galton, was the…

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