This 1909 leaflet, published by the The Oxford branch of the National Association for Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-minded, was inserted into a copy of the 1815 Report [on] Madhouses in England, owned by "The Warneford, Headington Hill"
Reprinted from the Morning Post of October 16th, 1909, by kind permission of The Editor.
There are two ways of effecting improvements in social conditions-the method of prevention and the method of cure. Proverbial wisdom has decided in favour of prevention, but most philanthropists find cure more attractive. Time, energy, and money are devoted with splendid enthusiasm to the task of assisting the weak and the inefficient to gain or regain a position in life, and but little attention is given to the work of preventing those defects which it is so hard and so expensive to cure. This prevalent lack of outlook in social work is due to the complexity of causes acting in modern life, which makes it almost impossible to forecast the final effects of any preventive action. The work of curing an evil is definite ; the results of attempting to prevent it are uncertain. But in one instance, that of the treatment of the feeble-minded, the results of prevention can be clearly forseen and the results of omitting preventive action and attempting curative treatment alone, are demonstrably disastrous. According to the estimate of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded, there exist to-day, apart from certified lunatics who are under restraint, 150,000 mentally defective persons, and of these no less than 66,000 are considered to be " urgently in need of provision, either in their own interest or for the public safety." It is difficult to express with sufficient force the gravity of the danger to national life which the existence of these persons uncontrolled in any sufficient manner implies. For from these unfortunate men and women the ranks of paupers, drunkards, and criminals are continually recruited. The number of paupers who are slightly deficient is apparent to anyone visiting casually one even of the smaller workhouses, while the experience of reformatories under the Inebriates Acts has shown that habitual drunkenness is closely connected with mental deficiency : at a rough estimate, it appears that from 60 to 70 per cent, of the people dealt with under these Acts are mentally deficient. " They are," says Dr. Branthwaite, the inspector of reformatories, " drunkards simply because they are feeble-minded, their drunkenness being merely one evidence of their mental condition. Equally close and far more serious is the connection with crime. The habitual criminal is recruited in boyhood from the defectives. Out of 100 cases selected casually from remand homes, where boys are kept pending trial, as many as 37 were found to be mentally backward or actually deficient. There is finally an intimate and unquestionable connection between mental deficiency and immorality, for a lack of moral restraint is the more common characteristic of the defective.
These facts would be serious in themselves, but they are rendered far more alarming by two further considerations. The mentally defective are usually prolific; one authority has estimated that while normal families average four, those where either parent is defective average seven, and of these a high proportion are themselves defective. Heredity is the chief cause of mental deficiency. In the face of a steadily falling birth-rate among the sounder portions of the community the feeble-minded continue to multiply their tainted stock. Modern philanthropy, both that of the State and of private individuals, exerts itself to preserve and to train these children, and costly special schools are, quite properly, provided to try and fit them to support themselves. The attempt is foredoomed to failure, and the only result is to enable them to struggle on for a few years before they become a burden to the State. It is impossible to raise the standard of life in the nation so long as the hopelessly and demonstrably unfit are allowed to multiply. All the efforts of philanthropy are vain unless the right to share the advantages of citizenship is strictly conditioned by the ability to be self-supporting. There is an overwhelming case in favour of a change in the law with regard to the feeble-minded, who at present cannot be subjected to any control, so that in the words of the Commission, " persons who cannot take a part in the struggle of life owing to mental defect . . . shall be afforded by the State such special protection as is suited to their needs." In other words, they shall be kept in detention homes where they can be made happy and partially self-supporting by doing such work as lies within their capacity. Such homes are possible at present only upon a voluntary basis. What are required are compulsory powers and continuous treatment. "The protection of the mentally defective person should be continued as long as is necessary for his good," not only in his interest, but also in the interest of the community. It is hardly possible that anyone who has studied the evidence presented to the Commission or has thought out the terrible possibilities for continued and increasing evil which are latent in every neglected case of mental deficiency can hesitate to endorse these unanimous recommendations, re-inforced as they are by the conclusions of independent authorities. To save expense, to save suffering, to make possible future progress, the whole problem of the feebleminded must be treated on the principle that prevention is better than cure.
The question is not, Shall the State assume responsibility for this case? But only, How much damage to the community shall be allowed before the responsibility is assumed ? Shall the feeble-minded child be placed under care and control from the outset on the grounds of mental deficiency alone, or shall the law wait until, after a few years, more or less, the deficient person comes under its notice as a pauper, a drunkard, or a criminal ? To this question only one answer is possible. Yet there remains a feeling in some hearts that this statement of the case is too cold and cynical. Religion teaches that every individual life is of supreme value, and that the development of each, however feeble its powers and darkened its intellect, is of eternal significance. To interfere in this development save on the ground of actual danger to the lives and property of others is a proceeding for which man has no warrant. But to those who approach the problem from the religious standpoint the proposals of the Commission should, in fact, commend themselves more strongly than to any others ; for the best, and indeed the only, chance which the feeble-minded have of reaching the fullest development within their capacity lies in a life sheltered from the temptations they are not fitted to withstand. The report of the Commission shows conclusively that cruel wrong is habitually done to feeble-minded girls whenever they are given their liberty. Since experience has shown that a defective person marrying runs the risk of perpetuating a race of defectives, a moral obligation to abstain clearly lies upon the individual, and moral obligations can be enforced by others if the individual is incapable of appreciating them. As Dr. Inge has pointed out in this connection, the laws of heredity are Divine laws, and on the highest religious grounds it is proper to affirm that since a knowledge of them is allowed, a use must be intended. In this demand for a better system of control the spokesmen of organised religion should be, and are, the leaders. In homes provided by competent persons the feeble-minded are far more happy and far more truly free than in the stress of ordinary life. Of the inmates of existing institutions an entirely trustworthy observer has been able to declare " both men and women can be made perfectly happy in confinement. In the majority of cases they appreciate their happiness, and very few of them would change their lives if they were given a choice." On racial, on economic, on religious grounds the permanent control of the feeble-minded is a necessity. Nothing but ignorance will oppose, nothing but indifference will postpone, a reform so right and so necessary.
The Oxford branch of the National Association for Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-minded has a Home for twenty feeble-minded Girls at Cumnor Rise, Oxford. (Founded 1903.)
Subscriptions may be sent to the Hon. Treasurer, Miss E. C. BENTLEY, 113, Banbury Road.
or to the Hon. Secretary, The Hon. PAMELA BRUCE, 23, Warnborough Road, from whom full particulars may be obtained.
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