Helen Keller: Physicians Juries for Defective Babies, Article in the New Republic, 1915

Due to the successful sanitization of the past in regards to eugenics, it is largely unknown how pervasive eugenics attitudes were, and how expansive eugenicists believed their program to be.  Here we have Helen Keller, writing in a prominent liberal magazine, advocating explicitly for infanticide–in the name of the race.  For more information and the context in which this letter was written, see here.  Ironically, the Nazis employed just these kinds of ‘juries’, called “Hereditary Health Courts,” brought about by the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (The “Sterilization Law”) and implemented brutally through the 1939 Action T-4 project, which slaughtered tens of thousands of disabled people–of all ages, including Germans.  To our knowledge, Keller never put ‘two’ and ‘two’ together, even though she lived well beyond the time when Hitler’s reign had been fully exposed.

[To learn more about this topic and how it relates to the modern day movement to normalize euthanasia, assisted suicide, and infanticide, contact Dr. Anthony Horvath (administrator of this site) at .  Horvath is available as a speaker and for interview.]


Helen Keller:  Physicians Juries for Defective Babies published in New Republic, Vol. 5, Dec. 18, 1915 pages 173-4.  [Source] [Source]


Much of the discussion aroused by Dr. Haiselden when he permitted the Bollinger baby to die centers around a belief in the sacredness of life.  If many of those that object to the physicians course would take the trouble to analyze their idea of “life,” I think they would find that it means just to breathe.  Surely they must admit that such an existence is not worth while.  It is the possibilities of happiness, intelligence and power that give life its sanctity, and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature.  I think there are many more clear cases of such hopeless death-in-life than the critics of Dr. Haiselden realize.  The toleration of such anomalies tends to lessen the sacredness in which normal life is held.

There is one objection, however, to this weeding of the human garden that shows a sincere love of true life.  It is the fear that we cannot trust any mortal with so responsible and delicate a task.  Yet have not mortals for long ages been entrusted with the decision of questions just as momentous and far-reaching; with kingship, with the education of the race, with feeding, clothing, sheltering and employing their fellowmen?  In the jury of the criminal court we have an institution that is called upon to make just such decisions as Dr. Haiselden made, to decide whether a man is fit to associated with his fellows, whether he is fit to live.

It seems to me that the simplest, wisest thing to do would be to submit cases like that of the malformed idiot baby to a jury of expert physicians.  An ordinary jury decides matters of life and death on the evidence of untrained and often prejudiced observers.  Their own verdict is not based on a knowledge of criminology, and they are often swayed by obscure prejudices or the eloquence of a prosecutor.  Even if the accused before them is guilty, there is often no way of knowing that he would commit new crimes, that he would not become a useful and productive member of society.  A mental defective, on the other hand, is almost sure to be a potential criminal.  The evidence before a jury of physicians considering the case of an idiot would be exact and scientific.  Their findings would be free from the prejudice and inaccuracy of untrained observation.  They would act only in cases of true idiocy, where there could be no hope of mental development.

It is true, the physicians’ court might be liable to abuse like other courts.  The powerful of the earth might use it to decide cases to suit themselves.  But if the evidence were presented openly and the decisions made public before the death of the child, there would be little danger of mistakes or abuses.  Anyone interested in the case who did not believe the child ought to die might be permitted to provide for its care and maintenance.  It would be humanly impossible to give absolute guarantees for every baby worth saving, but a similar condition prevails throughout our lives.  Conservatives ask too much perfection of these new methods and institutions, although they know how far the old ones have fallen short of what they were expected to accomplish. We can only wait and hope for better results as the average of human intelligence, trustworthiness and justice arises.  Meanwhile we must decide between a fine humanity like Dr. Haiselden’s and a cowardly sentimentalism.

Helen Keller

Wrentham, Mass.


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  1. I’m surprised that Helen Keller was such a huge proponent for this. As a person with a disability I know that people with all disabilities are contributors to society. But it took a long time to get to this place and society is still working on it.

  2. Hi Kathleen, it isn’t really hard to understand. Helen Keller did not perceive herself as being disabled in the same sense as others are disabled. She was afflicted by a disease after her birth. Apart from that, she was genetically sound.

    As for ‘society’ working on it, I wouldn’t hold your breath. While it is politically correct these days to have empathy for those with disabilities, many of the people who carry that banner loudly also believe that it would have been better if the disabled never came into existence at all. That is, it would have been better for them–and society–if they had been aborted. But, now that they’re here, the ‘humane’ thing is to make the best of it. So on and so forth, yadda yadda yadda.

    The high abortion rates of those diagnosed with a birth defect in the womb is manifestly clear when we see whole countries where nary a person with Down Syndrome (for example) is born. Australia would be such an example. How is it that the omni-compassionate people of Australia could have fewer Down Syndrome people to show their concern for than ever before? Is it because fewer are conceived? No, it is because these same omni-compassionate people think it is perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to ensure that those who are conceived, are not born.

    So, any deference and sympathy that the disabled presently enjoy in our ‘society’ should be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion. If the movement for ‘genetic justice’ is any indication, it will only be the Helen Keller types of disabled people (ie, disabled due to accident, illness, etc) that receive society’s warm embrace. The rest will be frowned upon.

    I say this as someone whose daughter was born with a birth defect, and who has actually had someone ask me, to my face, how I could bring someone into the world knowing that they would be disabled.

    ‘Progress,’ indeed.

      • Rena Havens on October 19, 2020 at 12:31 am
      • Reply

      No one is ultimately safe from the physician assisted suicide in illness or in old age. A person either preborn or later will face what a society without God and Jesus will decide. The Declaration of Independence gives us the right to life and liberty. Those rights come from the Creator,God and not the government in power. We are a republic and not a democracy. Not mob rule. John Jay the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that we are a Christian nation and have not only the right but the duty to choose Christian rulers. Public schools have stolen our children. John Dewey, NEA ,SIECUS, Outcome Based Education ,Mastery Learning,Goals 2000 etc have brainwashed our children. So government
      of the people for the people and by the people with religion and morality as( George Washington stated in his farewell adress) needs to be restored. Massachusetts has a great constitution. So I will pray for America. Amen

    • Duku on May 30, 2021 at 7:05 pm
    • Reply

    They will shift wording, definitive meaning, website data,& c. To avoid accountability on the slightest bit.

    We have a Right to eat, sleep, work, and fall ill to the death of a family members debt or “fee” on death.

    This “Country” is warped from 1743 – current.

  1. […] Keller:  Physicians Juries for Defective Babies published in New Republic […]

  2. […] severe disabilities to die. He withheld treatment that would have saved the baby’s life. In a letter to the New Republic, Keller maintained that Dr. Haiselden had done the right thing by euthanizing the baby, whom she […]

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  4. […] euthanasia for the mentally handicapped. One surprising supporter was Helen Keller. She wrote in The New Republic that the fate of the “idiot baby” whose “existence is not worthwhile” […]

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