Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance, and the theories of August Weismann. Historically, many of the practitioners of eugenics viewed eugenics as a science, not necessarily restricted to human populations; this embraced the views of Darwin and Social Darwinism.
Eugenics was widely popular in the early decades of the 20th century. The First International Congress of Eugenics in 1912 was supported by many prominent persons, including: its president Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin; honorary vice-president Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Auguste Forel, famous Swiss pathologist; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; among other prominent people. The National Socialists' (NSDAP) approach to genetics and eugenics became focused on Eugen Fischer's concept of phenogenetics and the Nazi twin study methods of Fischer and Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer.
Eugenics was a controversial concept even shortly after its creation. The first major challenge to eugenics was made in 1915 by Thomas Hunt Morgan, who demonstrated the event of genetic mutation occuring outside of inheritance involving the discovery of the birth of a fruit fly with white eyes from a family and ancestry of the red-eyed Drosophila melanogaster species of fruit fly. Morgan claimed that this demonstrated that major genetic changes occurred outside of inheritance and that the concept of eugenics based upon genetic inheritance was severely flawed.
By the mid-20th century eugenics had fallen into disfavor, having become associated with Nazi Germany. Both the public and some elements of the scientific community have associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, such as enforced "racial hygiene", human experimentation, and the extermination of "undesired" population groups. However, developments in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century have raised many new questions and concerns about the meaning of eugenics and its ethical and moral status in the modern era, effectively creating a resurgence of interest in eugenics.
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