WOMEN'S REALM AND SOCIAL NEWS
METHOD OF TREATMENT
Discussion of the treatment of the men-
tally unfit was heard in the Central Hall yesterday. Representatives of the Women Citizens' Movement and the Women's Christian Temperance Union occupied the platform, with the president of the Victorian Federation of Mothers' Clubs (Mrs. M. A. McColl), at a meeting convened by the Federation and the east- ern suburbs' branch of the Women' Citi- zens' Movement, to enable their members to hear opposite expressions of opinion on this subject. Mrs. Angela Booth spoke in favour of sterilisation as a solu- tion of the problem, and Dr. Paul Dane spoke against this method. Verbatim reports of the proceedings will be for- warded to every mothers' club affiliated with the federation for the information of members.
Mrs. Booth said that there was no ques- tion more appropriate for women to study, and no question of greater importance to women than the problem of the feeble- minded. Upon it depended the safety of the race and of the family. As a result of the "laissez faire" policy adopted in the past, degeneracy had increased to such an extent that people were being driven to tackle the question. The ab- sence of reliable statistics in Australia was one of the most serious difficulties in taking any action. Referring to the fact that in 1929 10 per cent. of 10,000 invalid pensioners in Australia were feeble- minded, she said that there had been an increase of 15,000 in the number of pen- sioners within the last five years, although it was not yet possible to ascertain what percentage of that number was feeble- minded.
Two methods of dealing with the unfit, said Mrs. Booth, were segregation and sterilisation. Segregation could not be regarded as practical politics, because the problem had grown too large for any- thing of the kind. Mrs. Booth quoted experiences and expressions of opinion in the United States, in Europe, and in Great Britain in support of sterilisation. The British departmental committee, she said, had unanimously recommended voluntary sterilisation on the grounds that enough was known to be sure that inheritance played an important part in the causation of mental defects and dis- orders. Selective sterilisation, Mrs. Booth argued, should be developed as far and as rapidly as public opinion would allow. An informed public opinion was what everyone interested in the subject
should strive to attain.
Case Against Sterilisation
Dr. Paul Dane said that the problem of the so-called mentally unfit was one of the least urgent of the many very serious problems that faced society. He claimed that it was a result of, rather than a cause of, conditions allied to poverty and crime. He denied, and quoted authorities in support of his statement, that heredity was a main cause of feeble- mindedness. The real problem of the unfit was an enormous one. It would embrace anything up to 30 per cent. of the people in modern society, whereas not more than 2 per cent. of any community was mentally defective. He did not ob- ject to sterilisation, but asked what effect it could possibly have on a problem that in its very nature was so abstract, so elusive, so dependent on factors in society which nobody could predict. America was a great place for scare headlines, and it was from America that the idea of sterilisation received its greatest impetus. Its promulgation was likely to throw people off the scent of the real problem, to entrap a lot of well-meaning people anxious for the uplift of society, and to blind them to other methods of dealing with congenital defects. The task of dealing with social and economic inequali- ties should come first. There was no doubt that environment produced a great deal of physical and mental ill-health and deterioration. The real thing to do was to try to improve society as a whole.