Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns

An article by Professor Alex Stern, Living Archives Team Member, has been released today in The Huffington Post. The article, Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break With California’s Long Eugenic Patterns, reveals that at least 148 female prisoners in 2 California institutions were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. Tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.  Professor Stern’s work points to a discernible racial bias in the state’s sterilization and eugenics programs.

Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published on July 7th a detailed expose’ of unauthorized sterilizations of unwilling women in California prisons. Johnson’s excellent report brought international attention to a scandal that some activists and researchers have at least partially documented. It is important to note that, as the CIR report says, these sterilizations were illegal: Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis. Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries….

How could this happen?

Governor Gray Davis apologized in 2003 for California’s twentieth-century sterilizations, 20,000  procedures carried out under an explicitly eugenic law. He did so  quietly, via press release, and with no attempt to discover or  compensate the victims. (Recognized experts on American eugenics were  disappointed at the time: Paul Lombardo called it “premature” and Alexandra Minna Stern said it was “preemptive.”) Now his statement seems like a sham. The  fault is no longer the law, it’s the failure to follow the law.

North Carolina is still struggling to pass a budget that includes compensation for its victims of eugenic sterilization.  California has barely started the process of coming to terms with its  troubled history.

The California state prison system is overcrowded — Governor Jerry Brown is appealing a federal court order to release inmates — and conditions are so bad that 30,000 are on  hunger strike. If this report about sterilization helps to usher in a  period of genuine reform, that would be wonderful.

We would still need to educate all too many people, inside and  outside the jail system, about the moral and practical harm of modern  eugenics. Based on some of the remarks by state officials that Johnson  reported, and on some of the comments on coverage of his investigation,  people slide right back into eugenic ways of thinking.

Justice Now is an organization that works with women in prison. Their website has links to the CIR  reports and videos.

Professor Stern’s article in the Huffington Post raises awareness about eugenic practices and calls for a new era of human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations. Tony Platt co-authored the post. The original article can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-stern/sterilization-california-prisons_b_3631287.html

Let’s make a baby: Pushing the boundaries of conception – CBC Radio One

CBC Radio One is exploring the ethical ramifications of cutting-edge reproductive technologies, such as three parent in-vitro fertilization and post-menopausal pregnancy. From June 25, 2013 through August 29, 2013 on CBC Radio One, Tuesday at 7:30 pm and Thursday at 9:30 pm. All ten episodes are available online here: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2013/08/06/lets-make-a-baby-pushing-the-boundaries-of-conception/

Dick Sobsey on parenting and intensive needs

The Agony and the Ecstacy of Parenting a Child with Intensive Needs

by Dick Sobsey

This post is for parents of children or adults with MECP2 Duplication Syndrome but it is also for all parents of children or adults with intensive needs. It is about how having a child with intensive needs changes our lives so fundamentally… about how challenging and sometimes painful it makes our lives…. but also how it enriches our lives and makes our lives better in some ways.  To read more: http://networkedblogs.com/NMw4h

Nutritional Experiments on Aboriginal Peoples in the News

As a follow-up to the previous post, “Hungry aboriginal kids, adults were subject of nutritional experiments“, here is some coverage of the events through the Toronto Star and CBC.  Article highlights are as follows.

After World War II, the Canadian government subjected aboriginal children and adults to nutritional experiments without their consent.  Many of these experiments were conducted in order to gather information about what the human body needs in terms of vitamins and nutrition.  It resulted in lack of dental care for Aboriginal peoples as well, in order to use gum health as an undistorted measuring tool for scientists (Livingstone, Toronto Star).

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, states in the Toronto Star that

“This discovery, it’s indicative of the attitude toward aboriginals,” Sinclair said. “They thought aboriginals shouldn’t be consulted and their consent shouldn’t be asked for. They looked at it as a right to do what they wanted then.” (Sinclair, July 21 2013)

It is likely that even at the time, these experiments were seen as ethically dubious (perhaps especially after the atrocities of World War II), and therefore probably why Ian Mosby, the post-doctorate from the University of Guelph, whose research brought these policies to life, uncovered only “vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians'” while researching the development of health policy for a different project (Livingstone, Toronto Star).

Mosby elaborates, again suggesting the classification of Aboriginals as less than other people,

“I think they really did think they were helping people. Whether they thought they were helping the people that were actually involved in the studies — that’s a different question.” (Mosby, July 21 2013)

The CBC provides archival material from via historian James Daschuk, of a 1946 report of the lives of First Nations in Northern Manitoba.

1946 Report: Medical survey of nutrition among the Northern Manitoba Indians

You can read the full articles through the links below:

Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/16/hungry_aboriginal_kids_used_unwittingly_in_nutrition_experiments_researcher_says.html

CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2013/07/18/starvation-politics-aboriginal-nutrition-experiments-in-canada/

Hungry aboriginal kids, adults were subject of nutritional experiments

New historical research reveals that Canadian government bureaucrats conducted nutritional experiments on hungry aboriginal children and adults. Ian Mosby, PhD, is a Historian of Food and Nutrition and while doing postdoctoral work at University of Guelph he came across references to studies conducted on “Indians”.

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever written,” said Ian Mosby, who has revealed new details about one of the least-known but perhaps most disturbing aspects of government policy toward aboriginals immediately after the Second World War.

Mosby — whose work at the University of Guelph focuses on the history of food in Canada — was researching the development of health policy when he ran across something strange.

“I started to find vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians’ that piqued my interest and seemed potentially problematic, to say the least,” he said. “I went on a search to find out what was going on.”

Government documents eventually revealed a long-standing, government-run experiment that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.

It began with a 1942 visit by government researchers to a number of remote reserve communities in northern Manitoba, including places such as The Pas and Norway House.

They found people who were hungry, beggared by a combination of the collapsing fur trade and declining government support. They also found a demoralized population marked by, in the words of the researchers, “shiftlessness, indolence, improvidence and inertia.”

The researchers suggested those problems — “so long regarded as inherent or hereditary traits in the Indian race” — were in fact the results of malnutrition.

Instead of recommending an increase in support, the researchers decided that isolated, dependent, hungry people would be ideal subjects for tests on the effects of different diets.

“This is a period of scientific uncertainty around nutrition,” said Mosby. “Vitamins and minerals had really only been discovered during the interwar period.

“In the 1940s, there were a lot of questions about what are human requirements for vitamins. Malnourished aboriginal people became viewed as possible means of testing these theories.”

The first experiment began in 1942 on 300 Norway House Cree. Of that group, 125 were selected to receive vitamin supplements which were withheld from the rest.

At the time, researchers calculated the local people were living on less than 1,500 calories a day. Normal, healthy adults generally require at least 2,000.

“The research team was well aware that these vitamin supplements only addressed a small part of the problem,” Mosby writes. “The experiment seems to have been driven, at least in part, by the nutrition experts’ desire to test their theories on a ready-made ‘laboratory’ populated with already malnourished human experimental subjects.”

The research spread. In 1947, plans were developed for research on about 1,000 hungry aboriginal children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, B.C., Kenora, Ont., Schubenacadie, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta.

One school deliberately held milk rations for two years to less than half the recommended amount to get a ‘baseline’ reading for when the allowance was increased. At another, children were divided into one group that received vitamin, iron and iodine supplements and one that didn’t.

One school depressed levels of vitamin B1 to create another baseline before levels were boosted. A special enriched flour that couldn’t legally be sold elsewhere in Canada under food adulteration laws was used on children at another school.

And, so that all the results could be properly measured, one school was allowed none of those supplements.

Many dental services were withdrawn from participating schools during that time. Gum health was an important measuring tool for scientists and they didn’t want treatments on children’s teeth distorting results.

The experiments, repugnant today, would probably have been considered ethically dubious even at the time, said Mosby.

“I think they really did think they were helping people. Whether they thought they were helping the people that were actually involved in the studies, that’s a different question.”

He noted that rules for research on humans were just being formulated and adopted by the scientific community.

Little has been written about the nutritional experiments. A May 2000 article in the Anglican Journal about some of them was the only reference Mosby could find.

“I assumed that somebody would have written about an experiment conducted on aboriginal people during this period, and kept being surprised when I found more details and the scale of it. I was really, really surprised.

“It’s an emotionally difficult topic to study.”

Not much was learned from those hungry little bodies. A few papers were published — “they were not very helpful,” Mosby said — and he couldn’t find evidence that the Norway House research program was completed.

“They knew from the beginning that the real problem and the cause of malnutrition was underfunding. That was established before the studies even started and when the studies were completed that was still the problem.”

The original article can be found here: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/life/sci_tech/hungry-aboriginal-kids-adults-were-subject-of-nutritional-experiments-paper-215688421.html

Mosby’s published paper “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952” can be found in the journal “Social History” Volume 46, Number 91, May 2013, pp. 145-172.

The abstract for Mosby’s paper on the study can be found here: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/histoire_sociale_social_history/v046/46.91.mosby.html

Mosby’s blog can be found here: http://www.ianmosby.ca/

Interdisciplinary history of sterilization in 20th century Canada by Erika Dyck

An interdisciplinary history available for pre-order (to be published in November) from the U of T Press is University of Saskatchewan medical historian Erika Dyck’s

FACING EUGENICS: REPRODUCTION, STERILIZATION, AND THE POLITICS OF CHOICE

Cover art by Nick Supina III

Cover art by Nick Supina III

Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada team members, Professor Erika Dyck (author) and Nick Supina (artist) demonstrate their skill and years of work in this upcoming publication.

For more information about the book and how to order go to the original posting here: http://osgoodesocietycanadianlegalhistory.blogspot.ca/2013/06/interdisciplinary-history-of.html

Irish government to pay survivors of Magdalene laundries

Ireland’s eugenics program: It was slave labour in the twentieth century. For almost 200 years, thousands of women and young girls, judged to be “fallen women”, were sent to live in Catholic institutions throughout Ireland. Some were sent to the “asylums” …sounds similar to Alberta Eugenics program?
Today, the Irish government announced it will pay survivors 11,500 Euros to women who spent three months or less in a laundry and up to a maximum of 100,000 Euros for ten years or more.
The full article can be found here: http://globalnews.ca/news/674185/irish-government-to-pay-survivors-of-magdalene-laundries/

The Sterilization of Leilani Muir

A new Wikipedia article about the National Film Board (NFB) documentary “The Sterilization of Leilani Muir” has been launched. The article is about the 1996 documentary directed by Glynis Whiting.  The documentary presents the story of Leilani Muir, starting when she was a young child and continues through her personal journey of her time at the Provincial Training School (Michener Centre) in Red Deer, Alberta, her sterilization and the launch of her successful lawsuit against the provincial government. The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada held a showing of the film during the first Alberta Eugenic Awareness Week (AEAW) in 2011. The article can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sterilization_of_Leilani_Muir

Provincial Training School on Wikipedia

An article on the Provincial Training School in Red Deer, Alberta, aka the Michener Centre, has just appeared on Wikipedia.  It is based on work that Mona Horvatic did as a student in Philosophy 217 (Biology, Society, and Values) in Winter 2011, with additional work to bring it to completion being undertaken by Andrew Ball as a summer RA for Living Archives.  This will be the first in a series of Wikipedia articles on Canadian eugenics to finally make their way onto Wikipedia, joining about 10 others already there.  So, if it keeps raining where ever you are for YOUR summer, you’ll have something to read …

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provincial_Training_School

Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2012: Highlights Video

Well, at last, here it is.  Watch, enjoy, share, like.

Disability Rights V Quality Birth Rhetoric: The Construction of Disability in China

Interesting article on the construction of disability in China by Yee-Fui Ng (Sessional Lecturer and PhD Candidate, Monash University Law School). The abstract: This article explores the tension between the Chinese government’s strong engagement in disability rights and simultaneous focus on ‘quality births’, which results in the abortion of disabled foetuses. At a broader level, the author examines the politicised and cultural construction of disability in China by scrutinising how the ‘disabled’ are defined, administered, policed and governed in postsocialist China.

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Call for Support – Rally May 15 from Noon – 1 pm

42 million in cuts to services for the disabled in Alberta!

Over the past several months you may have been aware that Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) has been directed, along with many other social programs, to make arrangements for budget cuts. These cutbacks are happening alongside an effort by PDD to better regulate funding models for people. These changes, unfortunately, make what we need to present at this time more complicated. Administrative changes around assessing support needs is co-mingled with the severe funding cutbacks being experienced across the province of Alberta.

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Hope is NOT a Plan

Canadians with disabilities are about one and a half times as likely to be victims of violence as other Canadians. People with disabilities in Canada have civil rights on paper but not in practice. Canadian citizens, everyday, have their civil rights ruthlessly violated by their government.  This has to be stopped, because Hope is Not a Plan!

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Why The Michener Centre Must Close

Recently, the Alberta government announced the future closure of the Michener Centre, an institution that houses people with developmental disabilities in Red Deer, Alberta. The centre is home to some 125 Albertans with developmental disabilities and has been in operation since the 1950′s.

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Life is better outside Michener Centre

Support for the closure of Michener Centre

Our family supports the closure of Michener Centre! Everyone can live in community!

Family members write about their support for closing Michener in the Red Deer Advocate. Many supportive comments follow the article. Follow the link at the bottom to view the letter online.

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Rob Sparrow: talks on eugenics TODAY in Edmonton

Just a quick reminder:

Professor Rob Sparrow will be giving two talks in Edmonton at the University of Alberta on Monday April 8 and Tuesday April 9, 2013. Both talks are open to the public and free! Talks are being held on campus in ETLC (Engineering Teaching & Learning Complex) Continue reading

Parents try to force surrogate mother to abort their disabled baby

Blogger Cassy Fiano writes about parents who try to  force their surrogate to abort their disabled baby. Cassy is has two sons, one has Down Syndrome.

Crystal Kelley wanted to give the gift of a baby to a family who couldn’t have children. She also needed the money that surrogacy brings. And so, she ended up becoming a surrogate mother to a couple in her state of Connecticut who had three children but wanted more. The first half of the pregnancy was friendly and happy, with Kelley and the parents communicating regularly.

Then there was an irregular ultrasound. After several more ultrasounds, the picture was clear: this was a baby who would be born with some disabilities. She had a cleft lip and palate, a cyst on her brain, and a heart defect. The baby’s parents immediately began to pressure Kelley to have an abortion, claiming it was the more “humane” option. Now, most decent people wouldn’t consider it humane to rob a child of her life simply because she might have a disability. This was the way that Kelley felt, and she refused to have an abortion

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Pride Week Panel on Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality

Here’s the poster for the upcoming panel, Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality that we’re hosting this Wednesday as part of the U of Alberta’s Pride Week.  The sesssion will feature Lise Gotell and Lane Mandlis as speakers, with Moyra Lang and Rob Wilson performing an interpretative dance (ok, perhaps not, … but we’ll do something useful … or at least will be there).  Please print and post, or distribute electronically.  Text only version included as well.

Pride Week Eugenics Panel Poster

Pride Week Eugenics Panel Text

Articles and Audio clips on the closure of Michener

Headlines read: Michener Centre formerly the Provincial Training School (PTS) for Mental Defectives closes – celebration for some but not for everyone

A series of articles have been written about the closure of the Michener Centre.  Living Archives team members, Leilani Muir and Bruce Uditisky have commented to reporters about their reactions to the closure. Both applaud the decision but many others criticize the decision to close Michener. The loss of jobs and the disruption for current residents are concerns for supporters of the institution.  However, amidst mixed reaction the Michener stands as a reminder of our recent history of eugenics and the institutionalization of thousands of individuals. The shift towards a more inclusive society and away from isolation and initialization is a change towards recognizing and perhaps even appreciating human variation.

Here are links to several different articles: Continue reading