Ernst Rüdin’s unpublished 1922-1925 study “Inheritance of Manic-Depressive Insanity”: genetic research findings subordinated to eugenic ideology
Kosters, G and Steinberg, H and Kirkby, KC and Himmerich, H, Ernst Rudin's unpublished 1922-1925 study 'Inheritance of Manic-Depressive Insanity': genetic research findings subordinated to eugenic ideology, PLoS Genetics, 11, (11) pp. 1-14. ISSN 1553-7390 (2015) [Refereed Article]
In the early 20th century, there were few therapeutic options for mental illness and asylum
numbers were rising. This pessimistic outlook favoured the rise of the eugenics movement.
Heredity was assumed to be the principal cause of mental illness. Politicians, scientists and
clinicians in North America and Europe called for compulsory sterilisation of the mentally ill.
Psychiatric genetic research aimed to prove a Mendelian mode of inheritance as a scientific
justification for these measures. Ernst Rüdin’s seminal 1916 epidemiological study on inheritance
of dementia praecox featured large, systematically ascertained samples and statistical
analyses. Rüdin’s 1922–1925 study on the inheritance of "manic-depressive insanity"
was completed in manuscript form, but never published. It failed to prove a pattern of Mendelian
inheritance, counter to the tenets of eugenics of which Rüdin was a prominent proponent.
It appears he withheld the study from publication, unable to reconcile this
contradiction, thus subordinating his carefully derived scientific findings to his ideological
preoccupations. Instead, Rüdin continued to promote prevention of assumed hereditary
mental illnesses by prohibition of marriage or sterilisation and was influential in the introduction
by the National Socialist regime of the 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased
Offspring" (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses).