sterilization and eugenics

by james hörner

March 21, 1928
Sexual Sterilization Act becomes law in Alberta. 5 years later Germany does the same, sterilization becoming a tool of the Nazis.
October 25, 1929
The Eugenics Board is established, and orders for sterilizations are commenced.
October, 1929 - February, 1972
2,832 sterilization procedures are performed in Alberta (55 of these took place in the final year of it's authority).
June 2, 1972
Sexual Sterilization Act repealed. "The Act violates fundamental human rights."

The Sterilization of Leilani Muir

nfb film cover
(click image to go to NFB site)
The Sterilization of Leilani Muir
1996, 47 min 00 sec
dir. Glynis Whiting

When Leilani Muir was in her twenties a doctor told she would never be able to have children. She was unware that in 1959, at the age of fourteen, she had been sexually sterilized under the Alberta government's Sterilization Act. Leilani says, "[the doctor] said my insides looked like I'd been through a slaughterhouse. Those were his exact words."

Around her 11th birthday she had been admitted to the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Alberta and was given a single IQ test. This was enough, apparently, to determine that she would qualify for sterilization.
A National Film Board film in 1996, entitled The Sterilization of Leilani Muir, examined the case of Leilani Muir and also looks at the history of eugenics in Alberta and the Alberta Sterilization Act. This film is a frightening portrait of when can happen when science is given too much weight in society.

In the film, Alberta Government Member (1971-1986) David King discusses the logic of the Sterilization Act, saying, "There was a widespread feeling in the Western world that everything could be remedied with science. That was point number one. And I think, secondly, there was a widespread feeling that somewhere at bottom science and morality were the same thing."

Some of the people considered "unfit" to bear children were new immigrants, alcoholics, epileptics, unwed mothers, the poor and native people. This was an extremely broad classifcation.

The Alberta Sterilization Act did not stop with sterilizations. The film talks about how there were castrations, hysterectomies, and other surgeries performed, as well. In the 1950's about thirty young men went through testicular biopsy. However, these men had Down syndrome which meant they were sterile by birth (it's been known since the 1940's that Down syndrome males are infertile at birth). Also strange is that testicular biopsies were not an operation to sterilize people anyways.

This film conveys the horror and agony that the Sterlization Act imposed upon it's victims. It is a reminder to all of us of the power of unbridled science and a government with a malicious agenda.
In October, 1989, Leilani Muir begins legal action against the Government of Alberta. Her claim is wrongful sterilization and wrongful confinement.

On January 25, 1996, Leilani Muir is the first sterilization victim to win a judgment against the Government of Alberta. She is awarded damages totalling $740,000 for wrongful confinement and for wrongful sterilization. This is small compensation.

The Case of Compensation for Victims of Sterilization in Alberta Continues
December 2, 1996
Peter Owen is appointed Limited Trustee by the Court at the request of the Public Trustee of Alberta to advance claims on behalf of 504 wrongfully sterilized dependent adults.
December 18, 1996
Legal action on behalf of the Limited Trustee is commenced by Field Atkinson Perraton.
January, 1998
Associate Chief Justice Wachowich, case manager of all sterilization lawsuits, directs that a sample group of sterilization claims proceed to trial in January, 1999.
March, 1998
Almost 750 victims have commenced sterilization suits in Alberta.
March 10, 1998
The Government of Alberta attempts to limit the courts ability to award compensation to sterilization victims. Bill 26 overrides the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to prevent these victims from using the Charter to recognize their rights.
March 11, 1998
The Government of Alberta retracts Bill 26, acknowledging that victims are entitled to fair compensation.
June 4, 1998
The 504 victims represented by the Limited Trustee reach an out-of-court settlement in the amount of $75,000 per claimant, with an additional $25,000 payable in three years to those who live outside of the province's three mental health institutions.
June 5, 1998
Field Atkinson Perraton continues to pursue claims on behalf of more than 100 other sterilization and confinement victims who are not dependent adults.
Sterlization victims' lawsuit has been postponed, with a trial start date looking to be September 7, 1999, at request of the lawyers.

A Brief History of Eugenics

Francis Galton conceived of the idea of eugenics in 1883, eugenics coming from the Greek and meaning "well born" or "good origin" (depending on where you look).

Galton combined his cousin Charles Darwin's ideas and current ideas of heredity. What Galton saw as necessary was a form of artificial selection, which he called eugenics. "Eugenics is the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, whether physically or mentally," Galton stated.

By 1931, eugenicists had convinced twenty-seven American states to enact sterilization laws, which barred "flawed" individuals from reproducing. By 1935, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany had followed. Eventually more than 30 U.S. states would practice it, as well as Alberta and B.C.

When Hitler became interested in eugenics, and began implementing it in 1935, we all know what followed. It was used against what were viewed as genetic defects, including those who were deaf, blind, mute, disabled, or homosexual. Ultimately it became an attempt to systematically eliminate the Jewish race in a bid to maintain racial purity.

Ideas of eugenics persist today- take a look at recent examples such as The Bell Curve, which is used by many contemporary eugenicists and racists to argue their case. Most extraordinary of all, however, is how a simple internet search on the word 'eugenics' comes up with scores of sites preaching this doctrine of racial superiority.

The most interesting, non-racist, site out there appears to be EUGENICS WATCH. Check out their site for information on a whole variety of important topics, including eugenics.

It Goes On...

Involuntary sterilization and reproductive repression continues to occur around the world.

following are some links to continue your reading.

Global Reproductive Health Forum: Contraception: Sterilization
lots of resources examining sterilization, quinacrine sterilization, and male surgical sterilization.

A Look at the Indian Health Service Policy of Sterilization, 1972-1976
"The purpose of this article is to examine the reasons for and results of the investigations prompted by physicians, tribal leaders, and senators concerning allegations that the Indian Health Service (IHS) was indiscriminately sterilizing Indian women across the nation. This topic brings up several questions of morality, ethics, and the law. These questions cannot help but be colored by the culture and values that we are taught. So it is from this perspective that we look at the sterilization policies and philosophies that were at work within the IHS-PHS, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) from 1972 to 1976. It was during this period that the greatest number of Indian women were put under the knife for a plethora of medical, social, and monetary reasons."

The Center For Reproductive Law and Policy
"The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) is a non-profit legal and policy advocacy organization dedicated to promoting women's reproductive rights. CRLP's domestic and international programs engage in litigation, policy analysis, legal research, and public education seeking to achieve women's equality in society and ensure that all women have access to appropriate and freely chosen reproductive health services."

Female Genital Mutilation Network
"This site is provided as a free service for affected women, physicians, medical students, social workers, educators and activists to encourage the existence of support and culturally sensitive, qualified medical help for women who are seeking to avoid, or have already been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM.) This site deals with the cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation exclusively, affecting mainly women and girls from Africa, the Middle East and Malaysia."

james hörner sits in a corner, quivering, plotting, afraid of the government.
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