Part II: LOVING, Bioethics and How Miscegenation became a ‘thing’

Photo Courtesy of Mill Valley Film Festival

Long Before Jeff Nichols, writer/director, chose to make the film LOVING (2016),  about a heroic couple of modest means striking a blow for the maintenance of humanity—by ending anti-miscegenation laws in the USA—The field of Eugenics had to be born and the term  ‘miscegenation’ coined. Miscegenation laws were present in many states  of the USA into the 1960s, in defiance of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution and  the Declaration of Human Rights. 
Modern “bioethics” emerged from the documentation of the atrocities associated with both WWI and WWII, and the manipulation of science and technology to serve ‘evil’ rather than beneficence, autonomy and justice. The film Loving speaks to the need to carefully consider the obligations of science. There is no evil science, just bad science and immoral applications. In particular, scientist, and physicians (who are all ultimately researchers) should at least read the Nuremberg Code. The document is a page long with only ten points. 

How did Anti- miscegenation laws come about? Let’s be clear, they were an economic mechanism to oppress slaves and other underclass people and prevent their owning property. This begs the question of how miscegenation became ‘a thing.’

Philosophy and the applied sciences used to be one school—and still were in the 1800s. Philosophy, was not separated from maths, astronomy, medicine and engineering. The footsteps of philosophy still drive scientific method —theory, hypothesis, proof and argument. Francis Galton was born into that time of interface and development of knowledge. Oddly Galton,  a  latter day Renaissance thinker in the  model of Da’Vinci, is attributed with coining the words miscegenation and eugenics. And yes, Galton started out in Medicine, circa 1838. 

In agriculture miscegenation was defined as the “interbreeding of two different species.” Galton’s Cousin Charles Darwin had published the Origin of the Species in the 1850s. Gregor Mendel an Austrian monk had observed variation in pea plants during the same period. Most biology students learned that Mendel is considered the father of genetics. From those works came Galton’s leap implying that human beings’ external appearance could make them different species. 

Galton was a Sociologist, Psychologist, Scientist, Geographer, and Statistician. He looked for proof of the patterns of his cousin and the monk in other aspects of the world — looking for a primary pattern in nature which was repeated. That is what good science does. When you think of Galton, think—regression from the mean — that was among his many contributions or to some of us—tortures. The mathematical models of Mendel for peas and other plants were being extrapolated and converted into statistics applied to human beings.

What came first, racism or the science?  The essence of scientific integrity is not only honesty in hypothesizing, recording and reporting but coming to unbiased conclusions. Galton began considering ‘lessor social' attributes to be apparent in people who looked one way and not another. The espousing that conclusion, for a statistician, had to be an unfounded extrapolation. But he likely knew that even then. 

In 1863, the science of separation, and its conclusions espoused by Galton, was rejected by some as a political tool deciding who should receive the benefits of a society. The difference between animals and people was thought to be decided by humanist to be  “the soul.”  Perhaps the soul is a more nebulous concept than that ‘a scientific certainty’—but also one less likely to bastardize the scientific process. Nonetheless, it was the soul which  ended slavery in the USA and many other parts of the world.  

The post civil war Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution, codified the belief that all “men” were created equal. That was adjusted in the 1900's to include women. The devil remains in the detail. However, it was the 14th amendment, which  applied to the winning of Loving v. the State of Virginia, and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was generations after Galton, Mendel and Darwin.

What is the lesson? Bioethical conflicts often coincide with historically poor scientific understanding, or abuses. However, they coexist with equal and opposite reactions — leaps of moral and scientific process.  Thinking  about how the film LOVING,  based on the lives of Mildred and Richard Loving,end of Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. Remember, LOVING is a film  not only about law, but about the debunking of archaic, if ever valid, science.

Galton Memories of My Life, https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Galton+Memories+of+My+Life+(London:+Methuen,+1908),+pp.+22+-+47.&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8