Tag Archives: Eugenics

North Carolina Eugenics Victims Still Seeking Justice due to Compensation Technicality

Genevieve Plaster  

Debra Blackmon was 13 years old when two social workers visited her home in North Carolina, assessed her to be “severely retarded,” and put in motion the process for her sterilization. The year was 1972. Though the state passed a law in 2013 to compensate victims of involuntary sterilization under the North Carolina Eugenics Board, Blackmon was denied because her paperwork stated that she was sterilized under county authority – not state authority, a technicality written into the law.


In March, a bill was introduced to broaden the qualifications of the eugenics compensation program and close the loophole that excluded Blackmon from receiving a portion of the $10 million set aside for victims. The number of people the extension might affect is difficult to estimate; however, by the June 2014 deadline to apply for compensation, there were 786 applications and only 220 were approved.


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Virginia to Compensate Victims of Its Forced Sterilization Program

Nora Sullivan  

In February, Virginia became the second state in the union to legislate in favor of compensating victims of the state’s infamous eugenic sterilization program.  The living victims of its state-sponsored forced sterilization are set to be awarded $25,000 following a protracted battle in the legislature.  In 2013, North Carolina was the first state to compensate surviving victims, at $50,000 each.


This news of the decision has been welcome relief for Virginia survivors of this program, most of whom are quite elderly and were only teenagers when they were forced to undergo these procedures.  “I couldn’t have a family like everybody else does,” stated 87-year-old Lewis Reynolds. “They took my rights away.”

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Brave New Britain: The U.K. Approves Production of Three-Parent Embryos

David Prentice  

The concept of “designer babies” may sound like science fiction, a literal Brave New World, but it is decidedly not fictional –  it is here now and being pushed rapidly into fertility clinics.


After only a brief debate today in the House of Commons, British Members of Parliament (MPs) approved a proposal to create genetically-engineered babies who contain the DNA of three parents: two mums and a dad.  The vote to approve wasn’t even close – 382 ayes to 128 noes.

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Eugenics Compensation Bill Offers Hope to Virginia Victims

Nora Sullivan  

When Virginian E. Lewis Reynolds was a child, he was hit on the head in a tragic accident that resulted in epileptic-like convulsions that lingered for years.  Mr. Reynolds ultimately did manage to overcome this affliction and he was able to enlist in the Marine Corps where he served in Korea and Vietnam in the course of a 30-year military career.


However, these convulsions were enough for the State of Virginia to classify Mr. Reynolds as a “defective person” when he was teenager and for the state to order that he be forcibly sterilized under the 1924 Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act without his consent or knowledge. View More

Victims of NC Eugenics Program to Receive Compensation At Last

Nora Sullivan  

Despite signals earlier this year that the State of North Carolina would once again not include plans compensation for the victims of the state’s infamous eugenics programs in the state’s budget, it seems that those who suffered forcible or coerced sterilization at the hands of the state will see some restitution after all as North Carolina is set to become the first state to provide compensation to victims of a state eugenics program.

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Human Arithmetic: Valuing Lives

Nadja Wolfe  

A report emerged recently that at least 148 female inmates in the California penal system had been sterilized without authorization.  The outcry justifiably focused on the fact that some women did not give informed consent, that it was against the law without prior authorization, and that in some cases it appeared there had been coercion.  But the underlying travesty is why the medical professionals thought it was okay: it would save the taxpayers money.[1]


It is easy to see why the doctor thought just under $150,000 in medical fees over 10 years was not so very much for the state to expend to produce savings on “unwanted children.”


Under President Hollande, France seems poised to broaden medical treatment to include the most untreatment-like of care, physician-assisted suicide.  Meanwhile, reports have emerged suggesting that legalized euthanasia undermines psychiatric and palliative care.  Once suicide is considered treatment, it is easy to see why insurance companies might prefer it over longer-term, life-prolonging care.


Texas recently passed a new  law limiting abortions after 20 weeks.  Although undoubtedly a pro-life victory, it contains an exception for severe fetal anomaly, reflective of the high rates of abortion of those diagnosed with disabilities and severe diseases pre-birth. (Id.)  Contrary to the bill’s statement that five months was sufficient time to decide to abort a child conceived in rape, opponents railed against any limitation whatsoever on aborting in cases of rape and incest.


Each of these instances highlights a deeply flawed way of assessing human beings, although they do not all err in the same way.


Dr. James Heinrich in California used cost-benefit analysis on human lives and freedom: the children of female convicts often go into state care.  If these women have additional children and land back in jail it will indeed cost the state money.  And to be honest, preventing recidivism, providing child care and job training, tracking down absentee fathers, providing social support for poor pregnant women, that all costs money, too.  The difference is that none of those efforts imply that society is better off with fewer burdensome babies, or analyze women’s fertility economically.  There is no practical difference between this practice and its legal parent, Buck v. Bell, in which Justice Holmes opined, “Three generations of idiots is enough.”[2]  Is human worth merely the last sum in a ledger of social costs and financial contributions?[2]


Disability advocates have proven stalwart opponents of euthanasia because they see what it says: some lives just aren’t worth having, and “some lives” usually means those without full, able-bodied functions.  It is simply not possible to say that disabled persons enjoy full respect and rights when an illness causing the same problems they live with daily is sufficient reason to justify suicide.  Similarly, abortion rates are appallingly high in cases of “fetal anomaly,” which can range from certainly lethal conditions to cognitive disabilities which have limited if any effects on health.  The story is the same, however: nontypical lives simply cannot be worth the same as “normal” ones, regardless of countless stories from parents and differently-abled people about lives that, though not free from difficulty, are nonetheless lives of joy which they value.  It is no favor to human dignity to define it based on physical, cognitive or social abilities, nor to create a society where the atypical is at best foreign and at worst freakish.  Is it our characteristics that give human beings value and dignity?


Rape and incest are among the most horrific crimes against a person; all women in such a position deserve medical and psychological care.  They can hardly be blamed should they want to avoid all signs of their trauma, including a resulting pregnancy.  But ending a pregnancy is not a cure for the trauma of rape.  And what does it mean when we carve out an exception based on the circumstances of conception, something over which no child has any control?  Is the value of a life predicated on the deeds of his or her parents?


Each of these practices has an internal logic to it, but applying that logic leads to troubling results.  If children are to be responsible for the deeds of their parents, should we not sterilize not only inmates but their children as well?  If a woman with a criminal record is pregnant when she goes to prison, should she be forced to submit to a “eugenic” abortion?  If some physical or mental or social aptitude is the measure of a life’s value, is there any reason not to take this to its ubermensch-eugenicist conclusion, and simply kill individuals as undesirable characteristics manifest?  (Surely, it is also cheaper than paying for their care.)  And really, is it any surprise that in a culture that makes these arguments, it is very easy to say that some lives don’t matter, because of dependency, or disability, or size?  It is every bit as logical to justify infanticide, as some have done.


Shall we repeat the errors of racism in deciding who is human enough, and perpetuate the idea that being human isn’t enough to be a person?  Shall we value women’s bodies and fertility as a vehicle for cost saving over their own freedom?  Shall we tell the depressed that in some cases life really isn’t worth living?  Might it not be better to affirm the value of each person, and leave the arithmetic—the value assessment—in math class where it belongs?  Until being human is the only standard for being a life of worth, we shall never achieve a truly just society.


*Nadja Wolfe is a student at William and Mary School of Law and a CLI Contributor.


[1] Corey Johnson, “Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval,” The Center for Investigative Reporting, July 7, 2013 (“‘Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money,’ Heinrich said, ‘compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.’”)

[2] Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 207 (1927).

[3] It is worth noting that similar cost-benefit analysis can also be applied to the disabled, who may need assistance or special accommodation and state support.  It would of course be cheaper not to pay for any of their needs.


Eugenic Elitism

Nora Sullivan  

In his book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black paints one of the most complete pictures to date of the history of the eugenics movement in America.  In this remarkable work, originally published in 2003 and expanded in 2012, Black chronicles a shameful period in modern American history, which has cast a long and lasting shadow across our country’s record on human rights.

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North Carolina Eugenics Restitution Cut from Budget

Nora Sullivan  

For months it has seemed that the recompense due to the victims of the horrific North Carolina Eugenics program was assured.  The measure to award a monetary compensation to these people whose human dignity has been so grossly violated seemed only just and entertained enthusiastic support from North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, the State House of Representative, and a large number of average North Carolingians.  However, despite the outpouring of support for this measure, the compensation packages were not included in the Senate’s budget.

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The Dark Ladder of Logic: After-Birth Abortion

Gene Tarne  

The Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) is one of those highly specialized, relatively expensive publications that cater to a targeted group of professionals.  Because these journals are expensive (a print/online U.S. annual subscription for the JME is $431) and have such a very specific audience, they are rarely read by laypeople outside the professional circles they are intended to address.

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Justice for Eugenics Victims in North Carolina

Nora Sullivan  

The state of North Carolina has now identified more than 100 victims of their massive state-sponsored eugenics program which lasted from 1929 to 1974 according to reports out recently.  In an effort to compensate for the wrongs of the past, Demoicratic Gov. Bev Perdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.  The foundation seeks to provide justice and compensation for the still living of the estimated 7,600 North Carolinians who were forcibly sterilized by direction of the North Carolina Eugenics Board. View More