State Seeks Stories From Sterilization Victims
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 18, 2003
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA--State officials are looking for people who survived being forcibly sterilized under California's eugenics laws during the 20th century.
Those who come forward could help the Department of Mental Health decide how it might compensate those who were victimized. Some are hoping their stories could help the state avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
"We are not out of the woods. We are entering a new forest," Alexandra Minna Stern, an associate director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, told a Senate committee looking at California's genetic policies on Wednesday.
Stern said that while mandatory sterilization laws are no longer on the books, eugenic ideas are still around and have become more ethically complicated as decisions to terminate pregnancies are based on genetic testing results.
Between 1909 and 1970, operations were performed on more than 20,000 Californians to make them unable to bear children. The practice was based on the idea that society would be better if "unwanted" people were not allowed to have children. Most of those sterilized were people with mental illnesses or mental retardation.
More than 60,000 Americans in 30 states and two Canadian provinces were forcibly sterilized during the last century. The movement lost popularity after World War II when it was found to be a "false science" and it was discovered that Germany's Adolph Hitler had adopted sterilization laws based on U.S. eugenics statutes during the Nazi era.
In the last 15 months, governors of five states have issued formal apologies to their citizens who were subjected to those laws.
Earlier this year Governor Gray Davis and Attorney General Bill Lockyer apologized to the California's sterilization victims. The state Senate followed up with its own apology last month.
Sen. Dede Alpert, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Genetics, Genetic Technologies and Public Policy, said during Wednesday's two-hour hearing that so far none of those sterilized in California have come forward to talk about what happened to them.
One senator noted that it may be difficult to find many survivors considering that most of the sterilizations took place during the 1930s.
"Californians discuss a dark part of history -- forced sterilization of 20,000" (Sacramento Bee via Deseret News)
"State seeks victims of forced sterilization" (Stockton Record)