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May 16, 2005

65,000 Secrety Sterilized From 1929 to 1974

Not really any cute, hack conservative-tilting point that can be made here, except for something broad about restricting the power of the state. This is really more up liberals' alley, but it's pretty shocking.

In a, yes, American eugenics program aimed at keeping the undesirable from reproducing, 65,000 Americans were sterilized without their knowlege under state (not federal) programs from 1929 to 1974:

The procedures that were done here were done to poor folks," said Steven Selden, professor at the University of Maryland. "They were thought to be poor because they had bad genes or bad inheritance, if you will. And so they would be the focus of the sterilization."

[Elaine] Riddick was raped and became pregnant at the age of 13. Social workers labeled her promiscuous and too feeble-minded to ever be a responsible parent. So, after giving birth in 1968, Riddick was sterilized without being told.

She learned the truth years later, when she married and tried to have more children.

"They took so much away from me," Riddick said. "They took away my spirit and my soul."

North Carolina sterilized close to 8,000 women in hospitals across the state.

Some think it's time to make amends:

Even though the practice ended more than 30 years ago, some say the time has come to make amends. North Carolina was one of the first states out of 33 that once practiced sterilization to offer an apology. State Rep. Larry Womble is crafting a bill to provide financial reparations.

Some wonder where the state will get the money. "They say, 'Well, we can't afford it,' " said Womble, a Democrat. "Well, we cannot not afford it."

Riddick went on to earn a college degree and raise the son she had at 14. He now is an engineering consultant.

"I thank you, God, for giving me my child," she said.

No lesser light than Oliver Wendell Holmes upheld the practice of forcible sterilization in Buck v. Bell (though I don't believe the case dealt with secret sterilization) for the "feeble-minded" (i.e., retarded) in a case involving a mentally challenged woman born of a mentally challenged mother, herself also born of a mentally challenged woman. "Three generations of imbeciles are enough," he snapped.

The creepiest aspect of all this is the secret part. Forcible sterlizations are a very controversial thing. One can imagine that in some cases a state-ordered sterilization might be defensible -- an irredeemable crack addict who's given birth to multiple premature/brain-damaged babies due to her refusal to practice birth control or stop smoking crack, a severely mentally challenged woman who doesn't understand sex or pregnancy, etc. -- but doing so without informing the intended patient is frankly un-American. Nazi-esque, really.

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posted by Ace at 11:45 AM

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