North Carolina agrees to compensate sterilization victims for 45-year eugenics program

After a ten-year deliberation process, North Carolina is set to be the first state to offer monetary compensation to victims of government-sponsored sterilization.

Between 1929 and 1974, the state sterilized an estimated 7,600
people by choice, force or coercion under the authority of the
North Carolina Eugenics Board program.

The North Carolina General Assembly in late July approved
compensation for the remaining victims of the sterilization
program. State Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the $10
million compensation package — to be distributed among living
victims — as part of the state’s $20.6 billion budget shortly
after the General Assembly’s vote. Verified victims will be
issued a share by 2015.

The number of victims alive in 2013 is unknown. However, the
state Center for Health Statistics estimates that 2,944 victims
may be living as of 2010. Less than 200 people have come forward
with sterilization claims, Charmaine Fuller-Cooper, former
director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims
Foundation, told CNN.

The N.C. Eugenics Board’s program started in 1933 after a 1929
sterilization law was ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme
court. The 1929 law stated that “the governing body or
responsible head of any penal or charitable institution supported
wholly or in part by the State of North Carolina, or any
sub-division thereof, is hereby authorized and directed to have
the necessary operation for asexualization or sterilization
performed upon any mentally defective or feeble-minded inmate of
patient thereof.”

The law struck down on grounds that it did not provide adequate
notice and a hearing to a person deemed in need of sterilization,
nor did it allow that person the right to appeal the decision in
court. A 1933 law included these missing provisions.

Under North Carolina’s law, ultimately anyone could request that
someone be sterilized, though a diagnosis of either
feebleminded, epilepsy, or mentally diseased” had to be
verified by “a psychologist, a physician who has made a
specific examination to determine epilepsy, or a
psychiatrist,
” source documents state of the petition
procedure. Petitions would then be assessed by the state’s
eugenics board.

The five-member board included the state Commissioner of Public
Welfare, the secretary of the state Board of Health, the chief
medical officer of a state hospital outside Raleigh, the chief
medical officer of the state hospital in Raleigh and the state
attorney general.  

In the 1940s, the state Department of Public Welfare started to
promote more sterilizations to help address “solutions to
poverty and illegitimacy,
” the sterilization victims
foundation’s site reports.

In the late 1950s, a dramatic rise of sterilizations occurred
amongst White women that did not reside in state institutions and
African Americans,
” the foundation’s site says of how the
program was administered. “Prior to the 1950s, many of the
sterilization orders primarily impacted persons residing in state
institutions.”

Public pamphlets were issued in the state to increase awareness
and support for the program. A pamphlet released in 1950 “extolling the
benefit of selective sterilization in North Carolina,”
begins
by stating, “North Carolina’s Selective Sterilization Law:
Protects … its mentally handicapped men and women, the children
of future generations and the community at large. It saves …
thousands of taxpayer dollars, needless human tragedy, wasted
lives.”

Throughout the 20th century up to the 1970s, an estimated
60,000-plus Americans were forcibly sterilized. Of the 33 states
with sterilization programs, California’s was the largest,
affecting 20,000 people.

In 1927, the US Supreme Court effectively approved of eugenics
programs in the case, Buck v. Bell. In his written opinion for
the case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call
upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it
could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the
State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by
those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute
degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their
imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit
from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains
compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the
Fallopian tubes.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s justification for eugenics, North
Carolina doctors still had trepidations about the legality of
sterilization in the 1950s, according to source documents
released by the state. In the decade from June 1950 to June 1960,
about 3,000 of the total 7,600 victims were sterilized.

In a 1950 document reprinted from the North Carolina Medical
Journal titled, “The Legality of Human Sterilization in North
Carolina,” the author addressed the fears of illegality and
outlines the process that led to an individual’s procedure.

A petition is presented to the Eugenics Board of North
Carolina.… Proceedings shall be begun when the head of an
institution or a county superintendent believes that
sterilization of a mentally dis­eased, feeble-minded or epileptic
person is ‘for the best interest of the mental, moral, or
physical improvement of the patient,’ or ‘for the public good,’
or is needed to pre­vent the probable procreation ‘of a child or
children who would have a tendency to se­rious physical, mental
or nervous disease or deficiency.’ The next of kin or legal
guar­dian may also make a written request for sterilization of
such a patient. If the Eugenics Board is satisfied that one or
more of the above named reasons ex­ists, it may order ‘an
operation of asexuali­zation or sterilization.’ Notice of this
order must be delivered ‘by registered mail, return receipt
demanded, to all parties in the case, including the legal
guardian, the solicitor and the next of kin of the inmate,
patient or in­dividual resident.”

The patient or someone on her behalf had 15 days from a
sterilization order to appeal the decision, the document states.

As for legal protection for doctors, the document outlines that
“‘neither the said petitioner nor any other person legally
participating in the execution of the provisions of this ar­ticle
shall be liable, either civilly or criminally, on account of such
participation, except in case of negligence in the performance of
said operation.’”

The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation
began upon approval of then-governor Beverly Perdue in 2010. The
organization is the “primary point of contact for victims,
potential victims and the general public who are seeking guidance
about North Carolina’s former sterilization laws and program.”

Republished from: RT