Birth and breast/chest feeding have been a part of history since the dawn of mammalian existence, bringing various species of mammal together in a profoundly simple, empathetic way. After all, what nursing parent can look upon a nursing lioness without a primal, instinctive understanding of the weariness in her eyes, or give a knowing smile when she pushes an overly rambunctious cub off her nipple after they get too rowdy? The birth and feeding of our young is simply a universal experience across species of mammals throughout the world.
The longevity of our species is due to this process being incredibly efficient and it allows mammals to adapt to a plethora of sub-optimal environments. There is no doubt that the medical establishment has helped our population explode from 1 billion around the year 1800 to almost 8 billion today, just 1200 years later (Worldometer, n.d.), with the evolutionary big bang that is modern western or allopathic medicine. While there is no debate that the rise of allopathic medicine has dramatically improved maternal and infant mortality rates throughout the world, these life phases are never without risk.
Due to the inherently vulnerable nature of birthing parents and their children, in 1948 the newly founded United Nations deemed these cohorts have the natural, inalienable right to specialized care and support. The nature of that care and support, however, has not been specified and as a result our species continues to face too many preventable maternal and infant deaths throughout the world. This paper will focus on the United States specifically as a relatively wealthy, developed nation as the challenges in developed nations are quite different than those in developing nations having already successfully overcome many of the challenges that developing nations continue to face regarding access to safe homes, clean water and basic medical care, for example.
Eugenics is understood as a movement in the early 20th century intended to improve human heredity. On its face, the movement is a noble one, concerned that public policies to improve the lives of the weakest of our species (which they defined as the mentally ill, disabled, and degenerate) were dramatically influencing the Darwinian evolution of the human race in such a way that might lead to the inferiority of our species. It was on the movement’s influence upon the accepted public discourse and integration within government bodies that led to some of the century’s most heinous legislation, resulting in the loss of bodily choice and integrity for many of our nation’s most marginalized and therefore vulnerable individuals.
The very terms segregation and sterilization were originally used in eugenic and bacteriologist literature to mean selective isolation or quarantine and “to eliminate the agents that reproduced disease,” respectively, prior to their use in more recent common vernacular (Pernick, 1997, p. 1769), which implies the original intentions with which these terms were used colloquially.
Ellsworth Huntingdon, scientist and one-time president of the board of directors of the American Eugenics society (Text Book History, N.D.), claimed that “America is seriously endangering her future by making fetishes of equality, democracy, and universal education (as quoted in Roberts, 1997, p. 51) by looking to care for our most vulnerable citizens. This paper will show how the aims he sought in these three areas have continued to hold strong through the last hundred years, despite decades of activists’ efforts to the contrary.