Far from being a shameful moment of our past, eugenic philosophy is alive and well in the twenty-first century. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in our response to the current public health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the viral nature of eugenic philosophy, which has continued to guide U.S. treatment of the captive and vulnerable for over 100 years. The long tail of eugenics informs our choices over those we institutionalize, detain, and sequester in long-term care and group homes.

Part I of this Essay maps out the hidden role of eugenic philosophy in both past and present approaches to law and public health, detailing its strong influence throughout the past 100 years.

Part II scrutinizes our reaction to COVID, exposing the neglect and discrimination against those populations we still view as “lesser” and “unworthy.”