Well, at last, here it is. Watch, enjoy, share, like.
Well, at last, here it is. Watch, enjoy, share, like.
In November, I posted on the Australian Senate Inquiry into the forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has just made its powerful, eye-opening submission to the Inquiry. And there’s something you can do, pronto, that may make a difference here: endorse or support the submission. Anyone who thinks that forced sterilization is a “thing of the past” shoudl read this submission. First, from the submission (p.20),
There is a historical precedent in several countries including for example the USA (until the 1950s), in Canada and Sweden (until the 1970s), and Japan (until 1996) indicating that torture of women and girls with disabilities by sterilisation occurred on a collective scale – that is, mass forced sterilisation. This policy was rationalised by a pseudo-scientific theory called eugenics – the aim being the eradication of a wide range of social problems by preventing those with ‘physical, mental or social problems’ from reproducing. Although eugenic policies have now been erased from legal statutes in most countries, vestiges still remain within some areas of the legal and medical establishments and within the attitudes of some sectors of the community:
“Disabled people should not have babies.” Continue reading
In San Francisco, a group of Facing History and Ourselves students is spearheading a movement that could change public high school history classes for generations of future California teens. Their goal: to include California’s history with eugenics and sterilization in the state’s public high school curricula. To read more, see the original post.
As a follow up to the post in the first link below, here is a list of further related links on those wanting to know more. Thanks to a helpful anonymous reader of the What Sorts blog who provided most of the links below but who doesn’t wish to be identified. Folks in Oz: let us know if you have more information, are undertaking action, whatever.
A Senate committee was recently established in Australia to review existing law and social policy concerning the sterilization of people with disabilities.
It seems that the inquiry is a response to public response (surprise? outrage?) to finding out that this practice continues in Australia under state and territorial legislation, and beyond it.
I suspect that the commission will find that Continue reading
Eugenic Sterilization laws were in effect in North Carolina between 1929 and 1974 – dates very close to the existence of such laws in Alberta, Canada (from 1928 to 1972), which resulted in nearly 8,000 sterilizations. These focused originally on those who were mentally ill or mentally retarded, and living in institutions. However, this grew to include criminals, the blind, the deaf, the disabled, alcoholics, those suffering from epilepsy, and those who were poor.
The debate for compensating these victimes have been ongoing for some time in the Carolinas, eventually culminating in the creation of a bill that went to the General Assembly, suggesting that each victim be paid $50,000 by the government. In Alberta, a number of cases against the government have been successful in gaining compensation for wrongful sterilization, including the well-known case of Leilani Muir. However, the General Assembly voted this past week against these measures.
The General Assembly cites the tough economic time, and the difficulty they have in justifying spending $10 million when the money is not in the budget. They further justify their decision, saying that history cannot be changed, and that are indeed many suppressed groups over history, including slaves and Aboriginals, who have suffered. These statements have generated even more debate. For more articles and reactions, see links below.
from The National Post, by Michael Shevell
This NP article is itself taken from a longer article in the January 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.
Though bespectacled and slight of build, Tommy Douglas is a giant of 20th Century Canadian history. His iconic, indeed mythic, status within the Canadian historical landscape is exemplified by his selection, in 2004, as “The Greatest Canadian” in a CBC-mandated competition above such luminaries as former Prime Ministers Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Lester Bowles Pearson, scientist Frederick Banting, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. This honour reflects Douglas’ role as the “father” of Canadian Medicare, which has emerged, for better or worse, as a defining feature of a Canadian national identity.
Medicare has in effect emerged as a statement of national values. Values that include compassion, fairness, tolerance and equality; values that are not selectively applied, but are extended to embrace even the most vulnerable of Canadians.
Eugenics, by contrast, concerns itself at its most fundamental level with the selective breeding of humanity to improve the human species. At a practical level, eugenics in the 20th century involved the removal from the gene pool by various means those classes of individuals considered “inferior stock,” whose deficits had an inherited basis that was immutable for future generations. These classes included those suffering from mental illness, intellectual disability or what was characterized as social diseases (e.g, alcoholism, delinquency).
The broad principles of universal-access medicare contradict those that can be utilized to justify the practice of eugenics. It would be paradoxical for an individual to support both. Yet Tommy Douglas did so with moral persuasion. Careful analysis of this contradiction reveals with hindsight further paradoxes that merit consideration. … read more
Sweden, “one of 17 [countries] in the European Union,” may soon change a law that requires transgendered people to become sexually sterilized if they decide to officially change gender. Sweden has made moves to repeal the law in January, only to be stopped by the Christian Democrat Party. However, this party has recently changed their mind, allowing the repeal to go through.
This move was partially in thanks to an online petition, by AllOut (http://allout.org/en/actions/stop_forced_sterilization), which gained 80,000 international signatures to repeal the law. However, the date for repealing the law is still pending.
Countries that still require sterilization include France, Italy, Romania, Poland, Greece, and Portugal. For a map outlining the current status of European sterilization, you can link here: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2012/02/most-european-countries-force-sterilization-transgender-people-map
An article at Mother Jones looks into an obscure Swedish law that requires those who want to legally change their gender to first get divorced and sterilized. The article uses this law to transition to a discussion on the long history of eugenic practice and sterilization in Sweden — a practice that surprises many, considering the general impression of Sweden as a bastion for liberal ideals and equality.
Sweden is considered extremely gay-friendly, with one of the highest rates of popular support for same-sex marriage, and more than half the population supports gay adoption. Arguing that the current law is both unpopular and abusive, the country’s moderate and liberal parties want to see it repealed. In response, the small but powerful Christian Democrat party formed a coalition with other right-of-center parties to join in upholding the requirement for sterilization. End result: a proposal for new legislation that allows trans—a preferred term for many people who undergo gender reassignment—to be married but continues to force them to be sterilized.
Head on over to Mother Jones to give it a read. Also check out another article about the same story in the Swedish press.
Some might be interested in the film Tomorrow’s Children (called ‘The Unborn’ in Britain) which was released in 1934, and can be downloaded free of charge at the Internet Archive. It offers a commentary on the American Eugenics movement prior to the horrors of Nazi eugenic policy which was introduced later in the decade. IMDB provides a brief synopsis:
A young woman wishes to marry her boyfriend and raise a family, but because her own family has been deemed “defective” by the state health authorities–her parents are lazy alcoholics who continue to have children, and her siblings(brothers here) are crippled, have mental problems or are jailed–she is ordered by a court to undergo sterilization so that her family’s “defective genes” won’t be passed on to any more children. Her boyfriend and a kindly priest desperately search for a way to stop the forced sterilization before it’s too late.
Has anyone had a chance to see this movie? Also, thanks to Velvet Martin for the heads up.
Last month the United Nations announced that we’ve arrived at a human population of more than 7 billion people, sounding a call for alarm to provide targeted reproductive services for the 215 women worldwide that do not have access to reproductive services, according the UN Population Fund.
Population panic is not new. In the early 19th century, Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus claimed that the dangers of population growth would put human civilization in jeopardy. Malthus did not support keeping the poor alive through charitable means and protested the Poor Laws of the time, which provided food aid and support for poor citizens and set the groundwork for the modern welfare state. Despite the fact that Malthusian population theory was proven to be erroneous- his work has been tremendously influential, most importantly, in evolutionary biology. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling book ‘The Population Bomb’ once again raised alarmist, doomsday predictions about the danger of population growth causing crises of apocalyptic proportions. His predictions were also inaccurate.
There is no question that we are facing a wide range of environmental and financial crises and far too many women lack access and choice in reproductive medicine. However, in the face of doomsday fears of scarcity, targeted population control of specific groups based on class, medical status, race and other social determinants has been a troubling historical trend. The question is not ‘if’ population is a problem; but ‘who’ gets targeted in population control programs. Since the 1920s, targeted and eugenic population control in marginalized populations has been present across North and South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe. Anecdotally, we can estimate it to be happening, or have happened all over the world. This past summer at the 9th Annual Conference in Ethics in Development in Pennsylvania, a medical researcher from Nigeria approached me following presentation of my paper on sterilization in the Americas, to say that forced sterilization surgery in tribal communities in South and Western Africa has been happening for many years and went on to describe a personal account. Belief that these incidents of reproductive abuse represent collateral damage in the more pressing fight for contraception access has cloaked the deeper Malthusian ideology that lives who cannot provide for themselves are ‘fertility liabilities’.
The Reuters humanitarian news service, Alertnet, recently quoted Parvinder Singh, of ActionAid India on the relationship between fears of scarcity and population: “the issue of population cannot be seen divorced from the aspect of resource or energy footprint,” However, Singh continued to note that: “the largest drain continues to be in the West which have traditionally consumed, and continue to, massive volumes of resources because of a life-style and purchasing power that far exceeds that of so-called high population poorer countries.” Research has demonstrated that raising quality of life for women and their families leads to a drop in fertility- so much so that the world’s richest countries are fearing a further ‘drop’ in their national populations. The recent US recession has created a record low in fertility, leading to fears that there will be ‘not enough’ children born to sustain the national economy. So, not enough of one group- but too many of another? On what basis are these determinations made? On relative value to the economy?
If we are to make progress against this historical trend of using population panic to make authoritarian determinations over which lives have value for reproduction, we have to own up to the pervasive Malthusian ideology that views fertility in the developed world as a valuable resource and developing world fertility as a global liability
Douglas Wahlsten has emailed to inform us of a publication in the Winston-Salem Journal on the story of Leilani Muir: the court battle (and victory) over wrongful sterilization, compensation, and the numerous cases that followed. Wahlsten explores these as a potential model to be used in cases of sterilization compensation in the United States, while also noting the recent promotion of the Canadian Eugenics’ past with the CURA funded Living Archives Project and the NFB documentary on the Leilani Muir case.
The award for sterilization followed existing rules in Alberta about an upper limit of damages for loss of the ability to have children from injury. Other jurisdictions may have another limit or even no limit at all. Consider the recent case of Evans vs Lorillard, where a man was awarded $152 million because the tobacco giant gave cigarettes to his mother when she was a child, and she became addicted and eventually died of lung cancer.
What would be the award if a woman lost her ability to have children because of a mistake during surgery or an auto accident? It seems this would be a reasonable standard for an award to victims of eugenic sterilization. To give them less implies they do not deserve the same respect as other people. Surely the amount should exceed the $20,000 proposed for victims of eugenics in North Carolina, because having children is a precious thing.
You can find the article here.
from Natalie Ball, working with Gregor Wolbring at the University of Calgary on the Living Archives on Eugenics project:
People with disabilities often were targeted by the state for eugenic intervention. Such policies and practices continue to impact the lives of people with disabilities. The word ‘eugenics’ often invokes thoughts of forced sexual sterilization mandated by a governing body. It recalls to mind 19th and 20th century ideas about a ‘master’ race, the Holocaust and ‘forgotten crimes’. Yet, eugenics often is seen as a dark era of the past, a regrettable fragment of history, beliefs, ideas and practices from which modern society progressively has distanced itself. But is eugenics truly limited to the past?
Eugenics is not just an historical experience. It is, arguably, a contemporary and future topic of concern for people with disabilities and for disability study scholars. To understand why we need only look at how the concept and practice were understood by Sir Francis Galton, the person who coined the term, and the way in which eugenics practices have changed over time. In his 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, Galton introduced the term as follows: “the investigation of human eugenics – that is, of the conditions under which men of a high type are produced.”
You can read the full article at the FEDCAN blog here
The preliminary report of The Governor’s Task Force to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board (available beneath the fold) was delivered today. In it, North Carolina State Representative Larry Womble says, at the final meeting of the committee, held three weeks ago:
Eugenics [is] a fancy name for sterilization. I am very compassionate about this issue and have worked on it for 10 years. If I’ve been involved for 10 years, what do you think about the victims themselves and it is a shame and disgrace what has happened to them. I thank the Task Force for all their work. But at the same time, I cannot be timid about this, I can’t be Mille mouthed. I cannot be cute about this because it’s not a cute and nice subject. We did to humans what we do to animals, we spade and neuter animals not people. And we did this to children 10 and 11 and 12 years old, they were not criminals, they did nothing wrong. We talk about we are the land the free and the home of the brave and when we do this to children and I’m wondering how sincere we really are. Continue reading
Pasted below is the text from this call for submissions for an art exhibit to be held in Edmonton and to run from late October through November of this year.
Anne Pasek, the principal force behind this initiative, is an intern on the Living Archives project this summer. As part of her internship, and with support from several other interns, she has arranged for the upcoming exhibition.
Please circulate this call for submissions, and be sure to attend the exhibition later this year. Also, note the pre-exhibit workshops being held the last Tuesday of July, August, and September, as you may be interested in attending some or all of these as well.
Call for Submissions
The Collective Memory Project:
Responses to Eugenics in Alberta
Artists and community members are invited to submit artwork to a forthcoming exhibition addressing the legacy and future inheritance of eugenic ideas in Alberta. Exploring forgotten narratives, lost histories, and contemporary anxieties, The Collective Memory Project will investigate and make visible the process through which personhood is unequally distributed in society.
Call for Papers
“Breeding the Nation: Eugenics, Culture, and Science in the United States, 1900-1940”
Workshop 13 of the 2012 Biennial EAAS Conference
The Health of the Nation
26–29 March, Izmir, Turkey
for more information about the conference, see the EAAS site at
h/t Doug Wahlsten.
The state of North Carolina has recently been revisiting its extensive eugenic past, and the latest move is a statement of support for compensation for sterilization victims from the director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Eugenic sterilization legislation was in place in NC until 1979; there are slightly fewer than 3000 living survivors of the regime of sterilization that was in place in NC until that time.
The full story is in the Lincoln Tribune.