Bioethics Blogs

Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age #4, Part 3: The Blurry Boundaries of Eugenic Infanticide

The Black Stork movie poster, 1917. Source: The Disability History Museum (with permission).

[Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age is a blog series exploring the lesser-known ways that eugenics affected and engaged American lives during the first half of the twentieth century.]

[Parts 1 and 2 tell the story of Dr. Harry Haiselden’s refusal of life-saving surgery for a baby with disabilities, whom he believed would be a burden on society, and the ensuing controversy.]

While public debate about the Baby Bollinger case subsided, Harry Haiselden continued to work as a physician. He diversified his eugenic medical practices to include sterilizations, and claimed to have personally sterilized nearly 400 patients in Chicago by late 1915.

In addition to sterilizations, Haiselden was called to consult on cases throughout the country to decide whether “defective” infants should receive operations or be allowed to die. Sometimes Haiselden decreed that a baby’s health issues could be corrected satisfactorily through surgery, especially if the baby appeared to be of “bright” intellect. At other times, as Haiselden told news reporters, if he found a child to be a “hopeless idiot,” he would “unhesitatingly advise that it be permitted to die.”

In July 1917, Haiselden once again approached newspapers, this time to report his recommendation that another three children be permitted to die. He explained that Baby Meter, who had already died at one day old by the time stories went to print, had been missing part of her upper skull case and had what appeared to be a small, malformed brain.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.