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:
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.
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 →
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.
In yet another example of alleged abuse of vulnerable populations in residential schools, this Chronicle-Journal article describes a class-action law suit filed against the Ontario government on the grounds of negligence and breaches of fiduciary duties by the school staff.
Robert Seed, 64, is the representative plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, which claims the staff at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind, in Brantford, Ont., bullied, humiliated and abused — mentally and physically — the plaintiffs in the 1950s and 1960s. The lawsuit is still in its early stages. The claim was filed at Superior Court in Toronto last month.
I recently had a chance to listen to a question and answer session posted on the What Sorts blog. This Q&A session followed a lecture by Martin Tweedale about the removal of John MacEachran’s portrait from the conference room in the Department of Psychology. MacEachran was the first head of what was then the Department of Philosophy and Psychology and was later Provost of the University of Alberta. He was also a major proponent of sexual sterilization and was the Chairman of the Alberta Eugenics Board from the Board’s inception in 1928 up until he resigned in 1965. In the late 1990s, a portrait of MacEachran in the Department of Psychology conference room at the U of A was removed. In the words of Douglas Wahlsten, a psychology professor who instigated the motion to remove the portrait, “We decided to remove MacEachran’s name from our conference room because we felt that the questions raised about his conduct were inconsistent with the honours the university had previously bestowed on him.”
After listening to the exchange between Professor Griener and Professor Tweedale, I started thinking more closely about how we ought to address issues of historical injustice. I think one of the more challenging aspects of the debate is the idea that by removing the name of an important figure in history from an award we are guilty of a kind of moral self-righteousness. As William Graham wrote in a letter to the Folio in 1997, “Although most in society today would consider compulsory sterilization abhorrent, the view was apparently different a couple of generations ago.” By wiping away MacEachran’s name, we have bowed to current ideas of acceptability (or so the argument goes). Continue reading →
Barb and Tim Farlow elected to have a malpractice suit against a Toronto hospital heard in small claims court, but a judge has ruled the venue is inappropriate. (Photo by Tim Fraser, National Post Files)
On Monday, November 30th the National Post (a Canadian national newspaper) posted an update on their previous coverage of the Farlow court case. Those of you who are regular readers will recall that the Farlows have made serious allegations against Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. These allegations amount to the claim that doctors at Sick Kids deliberately killed their baby, Annie, in 2005 because she had a fatal genetic abnormality. The decision handed down from Judge Herman amounted to a claim that small claims court was no place for the kinds of charges that the Farlow’s were raising: Continue reading →