Boston Sunday Post, June 10, 1928
Harvard Scientist Wants Married Couples Bonded
Dr. Lucien Howe Asks That Brides and Grooms Post Forfeit Guaranteeing No Blind Children
By Sam Smith
Applicants for a marriage license in the future may have to certify that there is no blindness in their immediate family, or failing that, may have to post a bond guaranteeing that their children will not be born blind.
The chief advocate of this new law is Dr. Lucien Howe of the Harvard Medical School, director of the Howe Laboratory of Ophthalmology. He goes further and says that it would be a good idea if couples were also required to bond themselves against bringing into the world insane or epileptic children. However, just at present he is concentrating on the law pertaining to the bond against blindness.
Must Post $1000 Bond
Last week, at a joint meeting of the Eugenics Research Association and the American Eugenic Society, Dr. Howe put his proposal in the form of a resolution. It was unanimously adopted by both societies.
Dr. Howe, at his home in Cambridge, consented to tell a Sunday Post reporter why he thought couples likely to bring blind children into the world should be made the object of special legislation.
"I am heartily in favor of control by law of hereditary blindness," he declared. "People who are subject to hereditary blindness will continue to marry. I see no hope of preventing it. But I do see a possibility of legislation that will prevent the children of such people from becoming a great burden and expense to the country at large.
"How many blind are there in the United States?"
"To answer that question naturally we turn to the census. But even that is not complete for even at the beginning the enumerators say: 'There are those who will frequently refuse to acknowledge that they are blind.' But after working at the subject very carefully, they give the total number of blind in the United States as 52,347.
"And how many of these cases are hereditary? That is still more difficult to decide. The census gives insufficient data to decide this. If we turn to the article on blindness in the American Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology, that bible of eye doctors, which includes a dozen or more big volumes on the subject, we find that this class is considered to include about 10 percent of all those born blind, with still 2 per cent more of the hereditary blindness which develops later in life.
"That would possible give us over 500 such cases. That seems a large number to the average person, who sees very few blind people except an occasional blind beggar, but if he had worked in an eye clinic day after day for a little over 50 years, as I have, he would begin to think that the whole world was blind, or nearly blind.
What it Costs
"Now I know the author of an article in the encyclopedia to which I have referred, and I know him to be a very reliable and conservative man. But perhaps he was mistaken. Perhaps he should place the total percentage of hereditary blindness at only 9 per cent, or 3, or 7, or perhaps altogether, only 5 per cent of the total number of blind in our country.
Who Pays the Money?
Now how much do these people cost us? It is fair to estimate the minimum cost of each individual, including board and clothing at about $500 annually, to say nothing of the cost of his education or his loss to the community as a wage earner. Now 500 times $500 is about $1,250,000 each year at the lowest estimate that we pay for the support of this group of blind.
"If we suppose that each one of them lives on the average of about 30 years that gives us a total of at least $37 millions to each generation.
"Now, who pays that money? When reduced to the best analysis you and I help to do so. Not only do we support the schools and asylums, but in our pity and kindness, we are ready to do that and more, too.
"And whose fault is it that we are called upon to make these sacrifices for those who are not member of our families, and who have no claim upon us? When reduced to the last analysis it is very largely your fault and mine. For, the fact is, that the vast majority of men and women know nothing or care nothing about eugenics, and most of them never heard of it."
Fault of Scientists
Dr. Howe said that the lack of proper legislation on the subject was largely the fault of scientist themselves. In their absorption of the study of eugenics itself, he declared, the scientists forget to apply the lesson to the control of such everyday problems as hereditary blindness and insanity.
"The trouble is that people do not understand the scientist in this field." Dr. Howe went on. "We get together a few times a year and talk about the X and Y chromosomes and people think we are students of some crazy sort of algebra.
"The truth of the matter is that we should not think of research, but more of its practical application of eugenics. Coaxing and prodding and lecturing and teaching have proved of no avail.
Must Pass New Laws
"What we must do is try the effect of proper legislation. Now I appreciate that we can not legislate the public into good morals. But we have the right, and it is also our duty to make use of what we have learned about eugenics for the sake of our fellow men and for the economy of our own pocket.
"It is for this reason that I approve of the principle of legislation which will require applicants for a marriage certificate to state in writing that neither of the contracting parties has a father, mother, sister or brother who was born blind.
"But, if neither of the contracting party can or will make such a statement, then they should each furnish a bond of at least one thousand dollars, satisfactory to the clerk of that city, town, or county, that none of the children born to them shall become a public charge.
Not a Drastic Step
"Now, such a law as I propose would coincide with the opinion and wishes of a great many oculists, who see the sad results of hereditary blindness, but are too busy to bother with eugenics at all. It is entirely in accord with a precedent already established. In general, if a corporation can protect iself by insurance against loss by fire, by accident or otherwise, then why not against blindness?"
Dr. Howe declares that his proposal to bond parents against bringing blind children into the world is not a drastic step. He believes that it is, in essence, very similar to the present law prohibiting people with certain diseases from marrying.