Eugenics, the study of human heredity in order to find ways to improve future generations through selective reproduction. The word, from the Greek for “well born,” was coined in the 1880's by Sir Francis Galton, founder of the eugenics movement. Eugenicists (persons who support eugenics) believe that government and social agencies should encourage individuals with desirable characteristics to reproduce and should discourage individuals with undesirable traits from having children.

Eugenicists have established certain standards and believe that couples who meet these standards should be encouraged to have large families. Among the standards accepted by most modern eugenicists are normal or superior intelligence, physical health, and emotional stability.

On the whole, eugenicists are not in favor of compulsory measures to control human reproduction, except in extreme cases such as inheritable mental deficiency. They prefer to rely upon education and persuasion to limit undesirable births and to increase desirable ones. Eugenicists support birth control, including sterilization.

Certain religious groups object to the principles and methods of eugenics. Sociologists fear that eugenic principles may be distorted and lead to abuse, as in Nazi Germany, where 6,000,000 Jews were killed because they were considered racially undesirable. However, eugenics is practiced in a limited way by many governments. Most states, for example, forbid the marriage of persons with certain hereditary diseases or mental deficiencies, and some provide for the voluntary sterilization of the mentally deficient.