Psychiatry and the Legacies of Eugenics

Historical Studies of Alberta and Beyond

Reviewed by Kylie Nicolajsen

Posted September 22, 2021

The contributors to Psychiatry and the Legacies of Eugenics do not mince words as they examine the potent consequences that can develop from a popular ideology — particularly an ideology legitimized by the science of its day.

In their collection of case studies focusing on Western Canada and the larger global context, editors Frank W. Stahnisch and Erna Kurbegović and other medical-history scholars investigate early twentieth-century beliefs regarding the “inheritance of biological, psychological, and sociological human traits.” They show how these beliefs were able to penetrate all corners of society, including legislation, medical practices, and media representations.

Psychiatry and the Legacies of Eugenics is a bold anthology that offers a historical overview of the Western Canadian uptake of the eugenics movement while pinpointing key legacies and learning opportunities linked to current discourses on mental health. Readers are left to think critically as they ponder the aftershocks.

To what extent was Western Canada simply caught up in a “transnational phenomenon” with its acceptance of forced sterilization and other inhumane practices? And today, as we head into a brave new world, what might the surge of “newgenics” technology say about the evolution — or stagnation — of medical ethics?

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This article originally appeared in the October-November 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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