The practice of advising people about inherited traits began around the turn of the 20th century, shortly after William Bateson suggested that the new medical and biological study of heredity be called “genetics”. Heredity became intertwined with social reforms when the field of modern eugenics took form. Although initially well-intentioned, ultimately the movement had disastrous consequences. Many states in the United States had laws mandating the sterilization of certain individuals, others were not allowed to immigrate and by the 1930s these ideas were accepted by many other countries including in Germany were euthanasia for the “genetically defective” was legalized in 1939. This part of the history of genetics is at the heart of the now “non directive” approach to genetic counseling.
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