March 11, 2009
Georgia State University College of Law Professor Paul Lombardo in February traveled to Rome, where he was invited to speak at a conference at the Vatican on “New Frontiers of Genetics and the Danger of Eugenics,” sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Lombardo spoke about the history of eugenics—a belief in the possibility of improving the human race by weeding out those with what are considered undesirable traits and encouraging procreation by those with desirable traits—and the origins of the eugenics movement in England and the United States.
Lombardo is the author of the critically praised book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, The Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (2008, Johns Hopkins University Press), the only fully documented account ever written of Buck v. Bell, a notorious U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to more than sixty thousand involuntary sterilizations of people described as “feebleminded and socially inadequate.”
Speaking to conference participants, Pope Benedict XVI condemned genetic discrimination and also said there were worrying signs of a new type of eugenics based on perfection and physical beauty.
“Certainly, the eugenistic and racial ideologies that in the past humiliated man and provoked immense suffering are not being proposed again, but a new mentality is creeping in that tends to justify a different consideration of life and personal dignity,” the pope said. “So it tends to privilege the capacity to operate, efficiency, perfection and physical beauty at the expense of other types of existence considered unworthy.”
Following the conference, Lombardo met and shook hands with the pope and toured parts of the Vatican a normal tourist would never see. From a personal standpoint, the trip was an opportunity to see Rome again, a city he had first visited 40 years ago as a student.
“It was wonderful to come back to Rome,” said Lombardo, whose wife Conni accompanied him on the trip. “You forget that [Vatican City] is tiny, but it's still a sovereign nation. And you're meeting a man who is not only the spiritual leader of a billion people, but also a head of state. Once you are inside the private rooms behind St. Peter's, the pageantry reminds you at every step what a unique opportunity it is.”