Hale’s Philosopher in Residence for 2021, Professor Rob Wilson (UWA) held a public lecture at the School on eugenics and the wide-ranging implications that genetic determination has had and continues to have in our society.
While there are well-known historic examples of eugenics being used as a form of ‘human improvement’, Professor Wilson discussed how eugenics continues today in different and more subtle forms. Examples include genetic screening for disabilities, as well as ‘cultural eugenics’ exemplified through Australia’s Stolen Generation. He encouraged the audience to think about how we place value judgements on what sort of people can be considered ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others.
Professor Wilson also discussed his public engagement work on eugenics in Canada from 2006 to 2016. During this time, he held public events, made a documentary film, and developed a ‘living archive’ on eugenics, which focused on the filmed stories of those institutionalised and sterilised under the authority of the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta (1929-1972). He revealed that, although there was a set of criteria for who could be sterilised under the Act, none of those who were forced to do so actually fulfilled the criteria and so should never have had the procedure. The repercussions have been lifelong for the victims and also continue to impact the wider community through ongoing stigma for people with disabilities.
Professor Wilson spent the week at Hale School, where he met with students across the school to discuss topics including the philosophy of science, theory of knowledge and genetics.