Eugenics -- Research -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Medical genetics -- Research -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
I examine three American researchers in the 1930s and 1940s who populate the no-man's-land of medical genetics, between the heyday of "mainline" eugenics and the medical turn in human genetics in the 1950s. In scientists' narratives, William Allan, Madge Macklin, and Laurence Snyder appear as pioneers of medical genetics and genetic education. Allan was a country doctor with an interest in heredity. Snyder, a Harvard-trained geneticist, entered medical genetics through population-genetic studies of human blood groups. Macklin came from a background in academic medicine. Allan, Snyder, and Macklin believed in a genetic approach to medicine well before genetics offered clinical benefits. Although hereditary diseases had begun to overtake infectious diseases as causes of death and illness, formal genetics offered medicine little more than a few explanatory principles. These researchers made their case by a) listing mostly hopeful potential applications of genetics to disease; b) blurring the distinction between genetics and heredity; and c) engaging in preventive genetic medicine, that is, eugenics. Examining their careers reveals some of the texture of eugenic thought in American medicine as well as the continuities between the early eugenic phase of human genetics and the professional medical genetics that today's practitioners take as the origin of their field.
Eugenics, medical genetics, human genetics, William Allan, Madge Thurlow Macklin, Laurence Hasbrouck Snyder.
Blood banks -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Racism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
This article explores the political and intellectual context of a controversy arising from a proposal made at the 1959 meetings of the American Society of Blood Banks to divide the blood supply by race. The authors, a group of blood-bankers and surgeons in New York, outlined difficulties in finding compatible blood for transfusion during open-heart surgery, which they attributed to prior sensitization of their patient, a Caucasian, by a previous transfusion from an African American donor. Examining the statistical distribution of blood-group antigens among the various races, they concluded that risk of adverse hemolytic reactions and the cost of testing could be reduced by establishing separate donor pools. The media reported the suggestion, which, given the political climate of the day, rapidly became a public issue involving geneticists, blood-bankers, physical anthropologists, and the African American medical community. Liberals condemned it, whereas eugenically inclined segregationists used the finding to support their views concerning evolutionary distance between the races and the dangers of miscegenation. Here we examine the contribution of comparative racial serology to this affair, the arguments and background of the main players, and the relevance of the debate to discussions about the role of "race" in post-genomic medicine.
In the early twentieth century, the living organism's ability to distinguish its "self" from foreign entities such as bacteria, viruses, transplanted tissue, or transfused blood was a major problem in medical science. This article discusses how the Australian immunologist Frank Macfarlane Burnet arrived at a satisfactory explanation of this problem through his 1949 theory of "self" and "tolerance." Burnet's theoretical work began from his study of diverse factors affecting the conditions of the host and the germ for the occurrence of infectious diseases. Among them, the host's age came to receive his attention as a crucial factor. This understanding was facilitated by his acceptance of cytoplasm inheritance theories, which emphasized the importance of the embryonic host's changing conditions according to its age. Based on this idea, he claimed in 1949 that the "self" of the organism was defined during its embryogenesis. Peter B. Medawar and his colleagues' demonstration of Burnet's claim became the basis for awarding Burnet and Medawar the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1960. While previous histories have focused on Burnet's "inductive reasoning" or "ecological perspective" to explain his conception of the theory of "self" and "tolerance," this article finds the origin of his ideas within an important line of modern medical research engendered through the development of germ theories—the studies of the host body and its relationship with parasites.
Frank Macfarlane Burnet, self, tolerance, host, germ, age, cytoplasmic inheritance.