by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 5, 2001
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion
Daily Express Email News Service.
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA--Without coming right out and apologizing, the Virginia
House of Delegates on Friday passed a proclamation expressing "regret" for
the forced sterilization of thousands of Virginians with disabilities during
much of the last century.
"It's the right thing to do," said Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., before the
The proclamation was originally written to be a formal apology, but some
lawmakers, nervous that an apology would open the state up to expensive
lawsuits, pushed to have it changed to an "expression of regret". It is the
closest any state has come to acknowledging these atrocities it inflicted on
its citizens with disabilities.
The Virginia Senate has yet to meet to vote on the measure.
During the 1920s, the number of people with disabilities being sent to
institutions grew at rapid rate. The cost of caring for people in those
institutions also increased rapidly. Tax-payers became upset about having to
pay so much to institutionalize people.
One solution: Operate on the people in the institutions so they will not be
able to have children who, many believed at the time, would likely have
children with disabilities, who would be institutionalized at tax-payer
expense, and so on. In 1924, the Virginia General Assembly adopted a
Eugenical Sterilization Act as a way to "relieve the financial burden" on
tax-payers. The law was also designed to protect doctors so they could not
be sued for malpractice.
That sterilization law opened the door to an estimated 8,300 people being
routinely sterilized in Virginia between 1924 and 1979. It was based on a
model law written by Harry Laughlin, a leader in what was called the
American Eugenics Movement.
Eugenics was established on what was a popular belief at the time, that
society in general, and the "white race" in particular, could be "purified"
through selective breeding. It is known that Adolph Hitler used the same
model law to justify "purifying" his "master race" by ordering
sterilizations of thousands of people deemed "socially defective", many --
but not all -- with disabilities.
During the height of the American Eugenics Movement, 30 of the United
States, two Canadian Provinces, and a large number of other nations had
sterilization laws on the books. In the United States alone, over 60,000
men, women and children are documented to have been sterilized against their
will. Most lived in institutions housing people with developmental
disabilities. It is not known how many sterilizations were not documented.
Here are more resources on eugenics:
Resources on this web page from Marmoset Media suggests that eugenics is as
strong as it has ever been, but now exists in the form of genetics screening
and selective abortion:
For information on the American Eugenics Movement, and specifically
Virginia's Eugenics laws, visit the historical archives hosted by the DNA
Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Click on the
essay entitled "Sterilization Laws":
Nearly half of those Virginians who were involuntarily sterilized lived at
what was called the "State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded". This was
the name given to the institution now known as Central Virginia Training
Center (which was featured in a story last Friday). Doctors at CVTC
officially sterilized thousands of people between 1927 and 1956, although it
is suggested that the practice continued there through 1972.
CVTC is still the largest institution in Virginia, housing 650 people with
mental retardation. Forced sterilizations at the facility are mentioned
briefly on the "History" page of the CVTC website:
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