Euthenics deals with human improvement through altering external factors such as education and the controllable environment, including the prevention and removal of contagious disease and parasites, environmentalism, education regarding home economics, sanitation, and housing.
The term was derived in the late 19th century from the Greek verb "euthenein": "thrive", "flourish". Ellen Swallow Richards (1842–1911) was one of the first writers to use the term, in The Cost of Shelter (1905), with the meaning "the science of better living".
Euthenics is distinguished from eugenics primarily in that the latter is concerned with the improvement of the human species through the manipulation of genetic inheritance (using various techniques of selective breeding), while euthenics is concerned with uninheritable improvements in human beings at a particular time and place, though this can have genetic consequences. For example, while eugenics would typically deal with the problem of an inheritable disease such as thalassemia by sterilising sufferers, or by limiting their reproductive rights through legislation, euthenics would approach the problem through allocating more resources to screening for the disease and by education, giving sufferers the chance to make informed decisions about whether or not to have children.
The result of the euthenics approach would thus have long-term, genetic effects, but would achieve them very differently from eugenics.
Many who support eugenics believe that euthenics is ultimately pointless, or at least less effective than eugenics, because it deals with the consequences of a problem rather than the problem itself. Those who support euthenics argue that eugenic approaches work by taking choices – and especially reproductive choices – away from people, while euthenics allows people to make better-informed decisions, as in the example of genetic diseases.
"Men ignore nature's laws in their personal lives. They crave a larger measure of goodness and happiness, and yet in their choice of dwelling places, in their building of houses to live in, in their selection of food and drink, in their clothing of their bodies, in their choice of occupations and amusements, in their methods and habits of work, they disregard natural laws and impose upon themselves conditions that make their ideals of goodness and happiness impossible of attainment." (George E. Dawson, The control of life through Environment)
"It is within the power of every living man to rid himself of every parasitic disease." Louis Pasteur
"Probably not more than twenty-five percent in any community are capable of doing a full days work such as they would be capable of doing if they were in perfect health" (Ellen Richards, Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment : A Plea for Better Conditions As a First Step Toward Higher Human Efficiency (Public Health in America))
"Right living conditions comprise pure food and a safe water supply, a clean and disease free atmosphere in which to live and work, proper shelter and adjustment of work, rest, and amusements." (Ellen Richards)
- John K. Grandy, "Euthenics", in Encyclopedia of Anthropology ed. H. James Birx (2006, SAGE Publications; ISBN 0-7619-3029-9)
- Ellen H. Richards, Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment : A Plea for Better Conditions As a First Step Toward Higher Human Efficiency (Public health in America) ISBN 0-405-09827-8
euthenics in German: Euthenics