In 1913 the British Parliament enacted The Mental Incapacity Act. The legislation had it’s origins in the Eugenic idea that the poor, the mentally incapacitated and other marginal groups where placing an intolerable burden on the state and should be sterilised and/or confined to secure facilities (hospitals for “the mentally defective” as they where then frequently termed). Eugenics was predicated on the belief that defective genes where responsible for poverty, unmarried motherhood and other things which the eugenicists wished to eradicate. As a consequence of the Act 40,000 individuals where confined to institutions, those imprisoned ranging from those with learning disabilities through to petty criminals and unmarried mothers.
Eugenic measures where widespread with America being particularly zealous in their promotion via the Eugenics Society (a similar organisation existed in the UK). As a consequence of the murder of people with disabilities under the Nazi’s Action T-4 Programme eugenics, not surprisingly became a dirty word but as late as the 1970’s eugenic measures where being employed in Sweden against people with certain disabilities.
Support for eugenics has come from people with divergent political views. The Socialist Fabians (Sidney and Beartrice Webb) where strong proponents of Eugenics and the Labour MP Will Crooks described the poor as “almost like human vermin”. The Liberal Beveridge (the man responsible for drawing up the modern welfare state) advocated for Eugenics while Winston Churchill (a Liberal and, later a Conservative politician) advocated for Eugenics.
In “An Act of Mercy” I imagine a UK in which eugenics has been adopted as official government policy. Individuals are tasked by the government to visit families and identify those with disabilities. Anyone so identified is removed from their family and subjected to special measures. Such an idea was, in fact proposed by Leonard Darwin in the early 20th century although he did not support the killing of so-called “defectives” but their separation from the rest of society.
For an interesting article on the support for Eugenics by people on the Left please see the following piece in The Spectator, http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/5571423/how-eugenics-poisoned-the-welfare-state/. (The article is skewed as it fails to mention that many non-socialists also advocated strongly for eugenics, a fact mentioned in the comments following on from the piece. It is, none the less worth reading).
The New Statesman has a good article on Eugenics which can be found here, http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2010/12/british-eugenics-disabled.
For information on Will Crooks please see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Crooks.
For my collection of short stories, An Act Of Mercy And Other Stories please see, http://www.amazon.com/An-act-mercy-other-stories-ebook/dp/B00EHS74CS. An Act Of Mercy is free in the Kindle Store until Monday 1 December.