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- 1 2017-06-15T11:54:33-07:00 Jacqueline Wernimont bce78f60db1628727fc0b905ad2512506798cac8 Living Survivors and the Case for Reparations Jacqueline Wernimont 15 A fact sheet detailing the estimates for living survivors and related reparations efforts. plain 2017-06-19T14:11:14-07:00 Jacqueline Wernimont bce78f60db1628727fc0b905ad2512506798cac8
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Many people are surprised to learn that in the 20th century over 60,000 people in the United States, mainly patients in state asylums and hospitals, were sterilized based on eugenics laws. A number of excellent books and articles and a few web resources on the history of eugenics and sterilization have appeared in recent years, but very little known is about the demographics and experiences of people sterilized, often against their will. Eugenics, the effort to shape and limit populations through sterilization and other forms of reproductive control, was popularized and institutionalized in 20th century America. While eugenics laws have largely been struck down and/or removed, the legacies of these practices have shaped communities and relationships between communities throughout the U.S.
Working with a unique resource -- nearly 20,000 patient records from California institutions from the period 1921 to 1953 -- our project seeks to make this history visible. Additionally we are working to make the dataset we've developed accessible and interactive. These records were microfilmed by the California Department of State Hospitals in the 1970s and only recently discovered; Stern and her team have digitized these reels and are using them in compliance with state and university regulations to create what is known as a de-identified data set. As medical records, this collection contains sensitive patient data that must be de-identified and used in accordance with HIPAA regulations and IRB protocols. This places considerable limitations on modalities for storytelling and possibilities for humanizing stories of reproductive injustice. It also raises important legal questions about how to balance the “right to know” with the “need to protect” in the realm of medical and health histories.
Over the past three years, Stern and her U-M team have created a dataset with this unique set of patient records that includes 212 discrete variables culled from over 30,000 individual documents. This resource is the first of its kind, encompassing almost one-third of the total sterilizations performed in 32 states in the U.S. in the 20th century.
This is very much a work in progress and we welcome your feedback and thoughts.
Living Survivors of California’s Eugenic Sterilization Program and the Case for Reparations
A fact sheet detailing the estimates for living survivors and related reparations efforts.
In 1909, California state legislators passed a bill authorizing medical superintendents of state homes and hospitals to sterilize patients who they deemed unfit for reproduction. California went on to have the most active eugenic sterilization program in the United States, recommending over 20,000 people for the procedure (out of 60,000 total in 32 U.S. states). Poor people, people with disabilities, and Latina/os represent the communities most affected by eugenic sterilization. This law was not repealed until 1979.
Eugenic sterilization programs are now considered a major human rights abuse and California officials apologized for this historical wrong in 2003. California has a longer history of sterilization malfeasance, including the nonconsensual tubal ligations of Mexican-origin women at USC/LA County Hospital in the 1960s-1970s, and 150 unauthorized operations performed on female inmates in state prisons from 2006-2010.
Our estimate is derived from a dataset of almost 20,000 procedures recommended in 1919-1952, the peak era of sterilizations. Hundreds of victims are likely still alive today: most would be 80 or older. We estimate that 18% are Latina/o, 62% female, and the majority were sterilized at Sonoma State Home or Pacific Colony.
Given the advanced age of survivors, the time to act is now. California should consider following North Carolina and Virginia, states with sterilization policies that established compensation programs for victims. Furthermore, California can demonstrate leadership by exploring additional forms of redress and recognition including reproductive justice training, historical markers to honor victims, and development of K-12 curriculum to ensure the history and legacy of eugenics is not forgotten.