Eugenics, Health Care, and the Government

As debate has raged over nationalized health care in the US–i.e., the kind of health care that the rest of the wealthy part of the world enjoys–there have been more than a few smart, savvy, and evocative interventions in the webosphere. Here’s one, linking the history of eugenics in North Carolina, about which we have blogged here, with “government health care”

Make no mistake about it: stories like the one told in the video are sadly common, though neither commonly told nor known. Eugenic sterilization continued until the 1970s and even 1980s in a number of North American jurisdictions. Although the particular groups of people disproportionally sterilized (relative to their numbers in the population) varied from place to place, there were two commonalities: (a) if you were from a marginalized population–Black in North Carolina, Metis or First Nation in Alberta–you were significantly more likely to be sterilized than if you were not; and (b) the justifications given for the eugenic sterilization policies typically either appealed to the heritability of ascribed “mental defectiveness” or to the judgement that “such people” were not capable of parenting (or both). Sterilization policies that appealed to these reasons were defended as progressive, money-saving social policies that would produce future generations that were relatively free of “mental defectiveness”

But can the horrors of a eugenic past–even one that is closer to those in some jurisdictions than others–be properly used to support prolife positions in the abortion debate (as is sometime done) or (as here) to send an anti-nationalization message? One of the problems in equating “government health care” with “nationalized health care” and whistling eugenics while you do so is that ALL of the explicitly eugenic legislation in North America has been state (in the US) or province (in Canada) based, in part because health has predominantly been a responsibility of these kinds of jurisdictions. And before one rants on about how any kind of government involvement here spells doom and gloom for inclusion, full coverage, the interest of the patient, etc., have a look at the following piece, just as thought-provoking, but pulling for the other team:

In the “don’t make the US like Canada” paranoia about health care reform in the US, ignoring truly nationalized programs like Medicare is common. And for who want to play the eugenics card as a way to shift opinions, they should keep in mind that the differences within each of the US and Canada with respect to eugenic sterilization swamp any average difference between the two countries on this front. The real questions are ones like “Why did Alberta, California, North Carolina, and Virginia vigorously pursue eugenic sterilization programs until into the 1970s, while many other states or provinces either didn’t adopt such policies at all, or implemented them only partially or sporadically after the Second World War?”

h/t to Sam Sansalone for the first video, and Biella Coleman for the second.


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