MEN and women without adequate knowledge propose with the utmost recklessness the surgical sterilization of the mentally defective on the assumption that mental deficiency is hereditary. This assumption is quite erroneous in the sweeping way in which it is usually made. Frequently mental deficiency is due, not to heredity but to accident. Some time ago an elderly lady asked me whether homoeopathy could do anything for her daughter, aged 35, who was a epileptic and mentally deficient.
When the child was born an incompetent doctor in a hurry used forceps with the most disastrous result. The mother was terribly injured, and the girl was born black, a mass of bruises, which remained for a month. The skull was badly injured ever since babyhood the poor child had suffered from epileptic fits. Unfortunately may similar instances might be given.
Besides, mental deficiency is frequently produced by a bad fall or some other accident, by a violent infective fever, by injury to the mother before childbirth, or by the injudicious nutrition of the childbearing mother, etc. On November 2nd The Times published a letter to the editor, which bears out this contention. We read under the heading “Dull Yokels”:.
“The late Dr. John Thomson established many years ago at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Stick Children a special for infants and young children suffering from mental defect, and before his death published an analysis of nearly 1,000 cases. I haven been in close contact with this special work since 1910, and since his death have been in charge of the clinic. It has now existed for twenty-eight years, and has records of about 1,400 cases. With this clinical experience, I would make some general statements.
I. Mental defect is not one disease, but is a condition of mind produced by many different morbid processes action before during, and after birth.
2. Among these causes of mental defect, heredity plays a very small part.
3. A large number of causes are due to morbid conditions operating before birth; but these are congenital and not hereditary.
4. Intelligence tests are of value for educational purposes, but throw no light whatever upon the causes of mental defect.
There is much public propaganda on the subject based upon two assumption-that mental defect is one disease and that it is to a great extent a hereditary disease. They are false assumptions, and they give rise to another false assumption that a degeneration of our national stock is taking place.
Another cruel consequence of this propaganda is to fix, and quite unjustly in a great majority of cases, the shameful stigma of tainted blood upon the parents. I can testify to the distress of mind of the mother of these afflicted children by the frequent lecturing and preaching of this false doctrine of heredity inn mental defect.
I am, Sir, you obedient servant,