“Ideas have consequence. Bad ideas have bad consequences.” — Jeanne Kirkpatrick

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Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

The other day I noted here the connection between the early 20th century eugenics movement and Hitler’s activities to purify the Aryan race. This connection between the ideas of intellectuals and the consequences they generated seems to have been swept under the carpet by historians. This blog entry is essentially an attempt to shine the spotlight on how far our own shameful activities went right here in the good old U.S.A. with regard to the implementation of ideas spawned by eugenicists.

I am revisiting this topic because I’ve recently been hearing sentiments that favor some variant of this activity, under a new guise and it has me concerned.

We talk about how awful Hitler was (and he was) but when you look at the State approved activities that occurred here in the last century, it is nothing less than shocking. Let’s start with Paul Lombardo’s article on Eugenic Sterilization Laws.

While some eugenicists privately supported practices such as euthanasia or even genocide, legally-mandated sterilization was the most radical policy supported by the American eugenics movement. A number of American physicians performed sterilizations even before the surgery was legally approved, though no reliable accounting of the practice exists prior to passage of sterilization laws. Indiana enacted the first law allowing sterilization on eugenic grounds in 1907, with Connecticut following soon after. Despite these early statutes, sterilization did not gain widespread popular approval until the late 1920s.

Advocacy in favor of sterilization was one of Harry Laughlin’s first major projects at the Eugenics Record Office. In 1914, he published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed to authorize sterilization of the “socially inadequate” — people supported in institutions or “maintained wholly or in part by public expense. The law encompassed the “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent” — including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers.” By the time the Model Law was published in 1914, twelve states had enacted sterilization laws.

By the time this sterilization craze had run its course more than 30 states had sterilization laws on the books. What’s disturbing to me is how buried this piece of institutionalized national horror has become.

Here is documentation of sterilizations performed in the name of science up through 1933. I love the euphemism involved. The organization keeping these records was the Human Betterment Society!

A more recent event that no doubt escaped our notice is the May 2002 apology by Virginia Governor Mark Warner to a man who had been sterilized against his will at age 16.

“Today, I offer the commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics,” Warner said.

“As I have previously noted, the eugenics movement was a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved,” he said. “We must remember the commonwealth’s past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring.”

The law targeted virtually any human shortcoming that was believed to be hereditary, including mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, alcoholism and criminal behavior. Even people deemed to be “ne’er-do-wells” were sometimes targeted.

On Wednesday in Lynchburg, two state legislators presented a commendation from the General Assembly to eugenics victim Raymond W. Hudlow for his service as a decorated combat soldier in World War II. Hudlow had been sterilized against his will at age 16 because he was a runaway.

Current research indicates that by the time all was said and done, as many as 66,000 were the victims of forced sterilization.

When history repeats itself, it often comes at us with a new face, but the same heartless soul. We need to be aware that these things didn’t just happen “over there” but happened right here.

So what face does this idea wear today? I will mention two.

This Daily Beast article, titled Sterilized for Being Poor?, is about an unmarried woman who had allegedly been intentionally sterilized (tubal ligation) without her knowledge or consent for having too many babies. The shocking part of the story was that when the Boston Herald did a story on this incident, a majority of the 1000 people who commented think what the doctor did was great. Poor unmarried women should not be allowed to keep making babies.

But what about the men who create babies and don’t take responsibility? Why should the women be the ones singled out? I recently heard a poor woman say that she favored the idea of men being sterilized after producing two babies.

I expressed my concerns, but even so she felt the government should step in, because children should not be forced to live a life of poverty, saddled with unwanted children by irresponsible deadbeat dads.

While looking further into this, I did some research on China’s one-child laws, which will be the subject of a different blog post. (They lifted the ban in 2013.) What I found was a podcast that proposes an idea even more provacative, that all male babies should be sterilized at birth and only be “unsterilized” when they obtain a license to make a baby.

In the light of overpopulation, reproductive rights may one day be a privilege and not a right. My question is how will it be enforced? Who decides what? Do we have a right to freedom if we are not going to assume responsibility for the consequences of our choices?

Just a bit of food for thought.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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