What is to Done? 109
Probably the most serious difficulty to be overcome before the practice of sterilization in any form could come into general use would be the determining of what persons were proper subjects to be operated upon.[superior 1]
This difficulty arises from the fact that we are still ignorant of the exact laws of inheritance. Just how mental characteristics are transmitted from parent to child is not yet definitely known. It therefore becomes a serious matter to decide beforehand that such and such a person who has a mental defect would certainly transmit the same defect to his offspring and that consequently he ought not to be allowed to have offspring.
The Mendelian Law
In 1866 an Austrian monk by the name of Gregor Mendel discovered and published a law of inheritance in certain plants, which after lying practically unknown for nearly forty years, was rediscovered in 1900 and since then has been tested with regard to a great many plants and animals.
Mendel found that there were certain peculiarities in plants which he termed "unit characters" that were
[begin footnote][superior 1] At present eight states have laws authorizing some form of asexualization or sterilization. But in all these cases the practice is carefully restricted to a few inmates of various specified institutions.