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Women Illegally Sterilized, says lawsuit

by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 22, 2001

This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--Last Friday, a civil suit was filed against the province on behalf of 13 women described as having "mental disabilities", claiming they were illegally sterilized while living in a provincial institution between 1940 and 1968. The women, who were not identified in the suit, say the provincial government ignored its own law by allowing irreversible tubal ligations to be performed on them without their consent, with no valid medical reason, and without the required reviews.

The Sexual Sterilization Act of 1933 gave authorities permission to allow hundreds of people with mental retardation and mental illness to be operated on so they would not be able to have children. The belief behind the law was that people with these disabilities would pass their "defects" on to their children, which would be a further "burdens" to society. The law was similar in many respects to one in the neighboring province of Alberta, and 33 states in the U.S. from 1907 through the mid-1970s.

But even this law had more limits and conditions than most. In order for a man or woman to go through the operation, officials had to prove that the procedure was "medically necessary", and that the person had consented to having it done. Officials also had to get permission from a "eugenics board" which was to review each case.

The 13 women involved in this civil suit say the operations were performed on them without even those conditions being met. All were residents of an institution -- that still houses people with mental disabilities -- during the 1940s through the 1960s. They claim that they were between the ages of 13 and their mid-30s when the operations were performed on them, and that the procedures were done for the staff's convenience.

One woman says she was sterilized when she in the hospital for "mental problems" resulting from a car accident.

Jay Chalke, the lawyer who is Public Guardian and Trustee for the women and who filed the suit, says that he and others have been working on the case for several years. They believe there are many more people who were illegally sterilized during this time period.

It is estimated that more than 60,000 people were "legally" sterilized in the United States and Canada as a result of laws passed during the height of the eugenics movement. Almost all of them lived in institutions at the time. It is not known how many were operated on "illegally".

Readers who are not familiar with the American Eugenics Movement or the American Breeders Association may want to spend some time with this excellent archive from the DNA Learning Center at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory which was home to the American Eugenics Movement: http://vector.cshl.org/eugenics

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