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Does the 'Let it Rip' approach have a eugenics problem?

  • 27 January 2022
  In the early part of the twentieth century, Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) used the latter’s work to argue that human breeding stock could be similarly improved. He would weed out the weakest and the less able and produce a sturdier race. He named this brave new science, eugenics. Others, most notoriously the Nazis, but also governments in Britain and North America, took these ideas and ran with them. Until recently, the crematoria of Hitler’s death camps were enough to remind most that this was not an idea consonant with actual human flourishing.

Until recently. It is true that people with disabilities have always had an uphill struggle justifying our existence (see, for example, this post from the (since deleted) account of the then social welfare minister in 2015, describing the ‘disability burden’):

The pandemic, however, has turned the disability community’s fears of increased discrimination into daily reality. While the pre-vaccine phase of lockdowns was accompanied by ableism and eugenics rhetoric (as I mentioned in my previous column on ableism and pandemic), the situation has only become worse. 

The decision seems to have been made by Federal and State governments (WA honourably excepted) that vaccines will be the principal line of defence against the virus. That, in itself, would be an inherently eugenicist approach (given that not only are vaccines not available for all of the population) but also that there are very few alternatives available for those at risk. Testing and even boosters are hard to come by and even the pretence that First Nations, elderly and disabled people enjoyed ‘priority’ (which was maintained for the original vaccines) has now been dropped when it comes to the required boosters. The failures to vaccinate people in group homes and sheltered workshops — and the accompanying toll in infections — gave real, if underreported, testimony as to how little disabled lives were valued.

"Many of these conditions on Dr Chant’s list are hardly rare — 1 in 5 Australians have diabetes and 2 in 3 are overweight or obese."

Increasingly, however, the quiet bit is being said out loud. ‘Underlying conditions’ is daily being used as a rhetorical device at government press conferences to minimise the harm done by the ‘Let it Rip’ approach. Covid-19 has now killed 3144 people (as at 24 January 2022). Since 1 January, when the ‘milder’ Omicron variant has been dominant, 903 people have died.

We have, however, been