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The Morality of Forced Sterilization

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Reproductive System related image Photo: Getty Images

North Carolina is in an interesting quandary. What kind of compensation do you give a woman for declaring her unfit to be a mother and then forcing sterilization upon her? June, 2011 just may be the time when the long-awaited acknowledgment for such an act is materialized.

Eugenics, a word that literally means “well-born,” is a term used for the so-called science of streamlining humans to make sure nothing but healthy and whole babies are born. The unwanted or unfit were considered those who “due to genetics” are subjected to prostitution, alcoholism, ignorance, birth defects, poverty or crime. This man-made process started around the turn of the 20th century. It was an idea heavily influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution – survival of the fittest and natural selection. This was during the time when new ideas from scientists and doctors were revered and went unchallenged – no matter how ludicrous or maniacal they were.

Case in point, men of science who perpetuated the idea of Eugenics found easy endorsements from those looking for the “cure” for society’s social ills. Offices of Eugenics were set up whereby particular traits of families were catalogued. Researchers took special interest in prisoners, orphans and patients at asylums. Eugenics' first American victims were recorded for all to see in the landmark case Buck vs. Bill (1927) where a teenager, Carrie Buck, was found to be unfit because of her promiscuousness. Buck’s mother was in an asylum for epilepsy and feeble-mindedness. All three females – grandmother, mother and grandchild – were subjected to forced sterilization due to this ruling. In actuality, Buck was raped by her foster parent’s nephew. And Vivian, Buck’s child, was an honor student before she died at the early age of 7 due to a bout of sickness.

CFIF.org stated that the Eugenics law was adopted by Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1934. They too sought the sterilization of approximately 350,000 Germans of whom were declared feeble-minded for one reason or another. Only six years later in 1940, this same Germany even exercised “a policy of euthanasia for German children and adults with birth defects and mental disorders." In fact, CFIF.org continued, “special actions were ordered to exterminate Jews, gypsies and other undesirable elements.”

What should we learn from this? There are moral consequences to every decision we make. Therefore, for those who are thoroughly misguided or evil, such as those who adopted this hideous policy, others who stand for right have the obligation to right their wrong. Yes, there were scientists and others back then that opposed Eugenics but they were few and couldn’t be heard over the clamor for the call of progress. It is the job of the masses – like those in North Carolina are now doing – to prevent this from happening again. So when this idea comes in other variations such as “designer babies,” genetic engineering or human cloning – we all will be watchful and ready to act.


The Sterilization of America: A Cautionary History

Re-examining Supreme Court Support for Sterilization

North Carolina Mulls Compensating Victims of Forced Sterilization

Reviewed July 4, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton

Dita Faulkner is a freelance writer who loves to advocate for the underprivileged. Check out her blog at:

Add a Comment2 Comments

Thank you so much, Karen. All of us wish you well there in North Carolina.


July 5, 2011 - 3:59am
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you, Dita, for a well-written, informative article. My grandmother was one of those forcibly sterilized by the state of North Carolina as was my great-aunt. It is heartening to see someone who examines the past and understands that we are not immune from repeating our mistakes. It worries me to know how few among us actually investigate our histories or look beyond what is proffered as truth to find the facts. The point? We must learn from our mistakes so we don't repeat them. Repeating the eugenics experiment would be devastating. -Karen Beck

July 4, 2011 - 7:18pm
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