Eugenics Are Alive and Well In the United States

Judging by the reaction to a recent report that 148 women were sterilized illegally in California prisons, a little history lesson is in order

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Informed consent is a concept at the core of both liberal democracy and the ethical practice of medicine. That is just one reason why a new report that, between 2006 and 2010, at least 148 women were sterilized illegally in California prisons should deeply disturb us.

The report found the inmates were given tubal ligations without the prison administrators bothering to get the case by case authorization for the procedures, required by law, from a state board. The point of this requirement is to have state officials outside of the prison review whether a proposed sterilization is genuinely consensual. (At least one woman has complained that she was coerced by prison officials into having the procedure).

Judging from the comments being made on even many liberal internet sites regarding this story, it seems a refresher course in one of the darker sides of American history is in order (A typical reaction: “So ridiculous making this procedure so difficult. Every woman who walks in the door of a prison should be encouraged with times cuts and subsidies to get sterilized.”)

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For much of the 20th century, people –usually women – in American prisons and mental institutions were subjected to forced sterilization. In an infamous 1927 Supreme Court opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes enthusiastically approved of this practice, saying of the coerced tubal ligation of a teenaged girl that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (The evidence for the girl’s “imbecility” consisted of the fact that she had had a child out of wedlock after being raped by a relative).

The practice of legal forced sterilization was an outgrowth of the eugenics movement – the idea that the genetic quality of human populations should be improved by selective breeding practices, whereby society’s elites would curtail unnecessary reproduction by the “feeble-minded” (a term that in the early decades of the 20th century was used as a catch-all for what the elites deemed socially undesirable people).

The eugenics movement in the United States was largely discredited by the fact that eugenics was central to both the theory and practice of Nazism. Nevertheless, California in particular has a long and sordid history of forced sterilization: sterilizations were forced on prisoners as late as the mid-1960s, in part because California’s long-time attorney general was a vociferous supporter of the practice, and it wasn’t formally outlawed until 1979.

The law that was ignored in the case of the 148 prisoners over the past few years was designed in the shadow of that history. It is a product of the understanding that forcibly institutionalized people are especially vulnerable to having their “consent” extracted from them, in ways that would never work if they were free persons.

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It’s an unfortunate side effect of America’s almost bottomless urge to lock people up that the legal rights of such people are so casually tossed aside. An incarcerated woman who is coerced, whether explicitly or in more subtle ways, into being sterilized, has had a crime committed against her, just as surely as this would be a crime if it were committed against a free woman.

This is obvious if we force ourselves to remember what the Nazis were at such pains to deny: that so-called “social undesirables”—in this case, prison inmates—are still human beings. To forget that is both a legal and a moral crime.

52 comments
satanslippers666
satanslippers666

There are limits to how many people the earth can dependably support. Plus, we are in a post-industrial world. Nobody needs a bunch of kids "to work the farm" anymore. Manufacturing and farming are becoming mechanized, requiring less labor. The world is changing in ways that bottom line is......we need fewer people.


It would be great if people were smart and conscientious enough to have one or two kids maximum. And frankly, all of the decent, smart working people I know have 0-2 kids. These numbers are reflected in demographic statistics. People are starting to "get it". Every demographic in the US is, on average, reproducing below replacement level of (2.0).....except Mexican Latinos who are at 4.0. Let's look at their situation.

I live in one of the areas where Mexican immigrants are settling and I work in human services, and let me tell you what I see on a daily basis. I see people whose culture values women mostly as mothers, not as inherently valuable individuals. The culture elevates male "machismo" and virility. The result is a population, who despite their grinding poverty, insist on having many children. While 4 is average, in my area we see many people who have as many as 9 kids. Many of these kids end up running the streets in gangs and shooting each other over wearing the wrong colors. 55% of the girls have at least one child by age 19.I could go on......but you get the idea. There are problems with this population. 


Aside from their culture, why do they have so many kids? Welfare policy. The more kids they have, the more foodstamps, cash aid, and subsidized housing they get. Current policies encourage their high fertility rates.


I propose that anyone, regardless of IQ or race, who needs public assistance be sterilized after 2 children in order to keep receiving the benefits. I think it's only fair. I work and can't afford more than 2 kids, so if I'm subsidizing people I think it's only fair.

NancyBroertjes
NancyBroertjes

This movement has such horrible implications but there are people who just should not have children. I recently saw a family with five generations of a known hereditary disease...which doesn't show symptoms until after they've had children but which can be tested for before birth and before having children.

Due to religion, the only form of contraception for them is abstinence.

RandomChaos3
RandomChaos3

eugenics can save humanity from its miserable fate, give us smarter babies, less degenerates, etc

queenofromania
queenofromania

If you were a frightened, old, white person or someone who thought like a frightened, old, white person, then eugenics would make a lot of sense.

rleenorthrop
rleenorthrop

@queenofromania why does it have to be a "white" person? I'm what you would categorize as "white." I even have blonde hair and blue eyes if you wanna take it that far, but I am avidly against eugenics and the whole concept of certain humans beings being deemed inferior or unfit to live. 

AlexanderSabatelli
AlexanderSabatelli

The only people who are bothered by the sterilization of criminals are those who want more criminals and drug abusers on the streets. Read about the woman who founded Project Prevention, which pays drug addicts to be sterilized, after she adopted the seventh rejected child of a drug addict. To allow the irresponsible to reproduce without limit is unfair to the unwanted children and to society for having to subsidize them. In a world of limited resources, population control is mandatory. We simply have the choice between controlled, humane population control, and uncontrolled, inhumane population control through war, starvation, crime, and environmental devastation. Most problems in the world could be eliminated if we simply kept the population within a sustainable limit. China's One Child Policy's prevented an estimated four hundred million births. They're beyond strained already, and certainly don't need more. Each new person brings quality of life down for all. Your ignorance and ethical cowardice is shameful. 

FreeMe
FreeMe

@AlexanderSabatelli I understand your point.

That said, by definition you are a naive, pathetic human being. I am grateful that you are not in any position of power, outside of yourself. (Sighs relief).

Be well.

sainikitha.sagiraji
sainikitha.sagiraji

@AlexanderSabatelli I'm afraid that you've misunderstood the way eugenics work. Altering the genetic makeup of a human can only be guaranteed to alter the PHYSICAL makeup of a person. A personality trait can only be controlled so much. You are implying that the child of a drug addict is surely going to become a criminal. To address your views on reproduction, I must say that it is completely out of proportion. Each new person beings down the quality of life for all? Imagine the position we would be in hadn't the people who evoked change been born. I assure you that their lives did anything but bring down quality. Refrain from assumptions and exaggerated claims. Sterilization isn't a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it a decision to be taken by anyone but the person in question themselves.


-A Thirteen-Year Old Female Who is neither ignorant nor possesses ethical cowardice

PhillyCannabis
PhillyCannabis

sterilizing prisoners is a great idea. It's a good deterrent against crime and keeps the crappy genes out of the pool. Who wouldn't support this?

RonnieRaygun
RonnieRaygun

I got news for you Paul, this isn't the only eugenics going on.

TSOL
TSOL

...and the Eugenics movement was part and parcel of the Progressive movement, endorsed by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Also, the director of the California State prison system is Jeffrey A. Beard, Ph.D, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Inconvenient facts, no?

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@TSOL What's inconvenient is your timing.  Governor Brown wasn't governor in from 2006-2010.  Schwarzenegger was.  And can YOU say GROSSLY inconvenient that a native AUSTRIAN (and REPUBLICAN) would be in charge during this time?

I know the GOP isn't that interested in trying to thin the herd through pregnancy avoiding.  They do it by starting wars so guys can have their equipment blown off or just get killed.  They have to have a large pool of the drooling masses in order to get any of their imbecile candidates elected.

Seems "Ahnold" didn't get that memo, huh?

And in case you're wondering, given your EPIC FAIL in your accusations, I'd call it safe to assume you are among the "masses" the GOP relies on to consistently vote against their own interests.

JoeClark1
JoeClark1

@TSOL  The majority of the support for eugenics came from the right NOT the left. Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin received support from the Rockefeller and Carneige foundations. Indeed many wanted to see all union members sterlizied. 

MaxVohra
MaxVohra

This has been going on in the US for a while. In the past, the government actively encouraged sterilization for Mexican and Native women, groups they saw as "unfit." In fact Nazi eugenics and some practices were inspired by American eugenics and racist immigration laws starting from some hundred years ago. Of course, there's the issue of exporting birth control to other countries such as India and China, not as a women's right but as a method of population control to "contain Asian hordes," which actually ended up contributing to the gendercide in India and China. 

FreeMe
FreeMe

@MaxVohra Exactly! This is old news, and sad truths that we ALL should be taught in schools, not just some of us. Unfortunately, exposing the dark history of USA is deemed Anti-American/non-patriotic, etc., instead of being recognized as mere genuine proponents of truth. Anyway, well stated.

Nathan123
Nathan123

How about some specifics. "One woman claimed she was coerced." Wow, that's damning.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@Nathan123 

you really expect TIME to provide factual evidence? it's a lot easier to sensationalize everything than to actually analyze it in a meaningful manner, and TIME seems to have adopted this philosophy whole-heartedly

mwest539
mwest539

I support Eugenics. I say we should offer these women time off their sentences in exchange for getting sterilized. These women are defectives. The Nazis might have supported Eugenics, they also support "socialism." And they hated communists. Just like I do. Wanting to improve the human race instead of degrade it is not Nazism. It is patriotism.

dgdoesstuff
dgdoesstuff

I don't think of it in terms of genetics. An idiot criminal can have a kid and, in a different environment, grow up to be a very productive member of society.

In terms of economics though, women in jail don't help anyone at all when they have kids, and we have more than enough kids already in foster care. The fact that one of the biggest deterrents to this type of eugenics is "Hitler did it, therefore don't" is a sign that it might not be a bad idea on ad of itself. (Hitler ate broccoli, therefore broccoli bad...)

tinoesroho
tinoesroho

@mwest539 Can't tell if serious, or if trolling.

Eugenics is terrible; what if I decide that humanity should be green-eyed, nature be damned? No, Eugenics sucks. When the day of biohacking humans becomes reality, we'll be able to repair defective genes- though we can't fix stupid parents (or communities).

FreeMe
FreeMe

@dgdoesstuff I hear your point, and understand your perspective. However, women- and men- in prison do help USA labor and finance. Sounds contradictory, right? Research prison labor and industry revenue; or better yet, take a Macroeconomics class.

FreeMe
FreeMe

@VitoPowers I am neither confirming nor denying this, I just want to note that if you and I can write/add/edit Wikipedia information, it should not be considered a reputable source. There might be further sources that are, so the information might be correct; just not a good source to cite in such debate. ;)

i.am.the.chinese
i.am.the.chinese

It's funny how this article talks of the rights essentially being stripped away from these inmates, yet certain commenters seem only interested in the fact that NOT coercing them to be sterilized (or illegally sterilizing) will result in more babies in poverty. News flash: there will always be poor people, but poverty and welfare are politically defined. If it's population control you want, laws can be set making that happen (perhaps not now in the U.S., but it's plausible) - but population control by sterilization? Curbing the birth rate of a subset of the U.S. population by sterilization? You seem quite happy to sit behind your computer screen and decide what should be done to people's bodies to stop an outcome you deem undesirable. One day the tables will be turned - what then?

tinoesroho
tinoesroho

@i.am.the.chinese It's not a very effective method of population control. It's more an enduring punishment, a "Mark of Cain", so as to speak.

NancyBroertjes
NancyBroertjes

When illegitimate children were taken away from parents the out of wedlock birthrate was MUCH lower. It seems as though multi generational welfare has become a cottage industry.

Disco_House
Disco_House

In the UK they have generation after generation of families on welfare: as soon as they are old enough to breed they do and they carry on breeding.  Social problems and a permanent drain on the exchequer follow.  This is not fair on the rest of society, the people who are forced to pick up the bill and forced to deal with the problems.


Is it really too much to ask, that welfare recipients have mandatory birth control implants? 

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@Disco_House  

it shouldn't be but god forbid the government try to make you do something in return for getting your handouts these days. you'd think that it was a basic human right to have the government give you free money while you sit on your butt all day being a lazy p.o.s. the way a lot of people whine about it.  and i'm not saying all people on a government pension are lazy. that's not the case at all. but there are a huge number of people scamming the system like the low-life scum they are

NancyBroertjes
NancyBroertjes

In the U.S. that would be unconstitutional.....however to take state custody of those the parents could not support does work.

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

Part 1

Dear Mr. Campos, You may be an expert in law, but you do not seem to know squat about Eugenetics or the history of it.

I am in favor of forced sterilization as a past social worker where I witness women spitting out babies as fast as nature allowed them to for a vast assortment of reasons, ranging from Well fare money to just being irresponsible. most of these women are addicted to drugs or alcohol and even use their children as prostitutes later on when the effects of age catches up with the mother.

And as far as the Abortion issue is concerned, The women who place their sexual proclivities over the life of an unborn child, they should be sterilized to save lives. I personally believe a fetus is a an unborn human being and deserves to live. There would be exceptions to this in my mind, such as rape, Incest, or disease or some life threatening condition to the mother.

AlexanderSabatelli
AlexanderSabatelli

@roknsteve Anyone who equates the statistically indisputable need for population control with Nazism is unworthy of consideration, and is an accomplice to global poverty, war, suffering, and environmental devastation. 

seeseebutler
seeseebutler

@lazarus00000

I have been part of the criminal justice and welfare system as well. You hit the nail on the head. I see generation after generation of the same families go through the system. By the way, they have all been given access to an assortment of social services to improve their lot without success. They do not even try. Oliver Wendell Holmes had it right: three generations of imbeciles are enough.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@lazarus00000 Part 3: You'll propose using Nerve gas to get rid of the undesirables.

Part 4:  You'll start wearing a snappy Nazi uniform.    

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

@roknsteve 

And you get a nice new pointy paper hat and asked to sit in the corner,

Part 5

You know nothing about me or apparently much at all including history or life.

Respectfully,

Lazarus

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

@seeseebutler 

Thanks,

I worked closely with the Law enforcement in keeping the children safe, but the judge would send the children back into the same homes because of political correctness or misplced moral values.

Lazarus

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

@roknsteve 

Please try to remember to take your Ginko-biloba while reading.

As to being 70, age does not bring wisdom, life does.

when I used to play in trafic as a child, I made sure I carried a sharp butcher knife with me.

I am 60.. you young whippersnapper.

Lazarus

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@roknsteve

"And I've been studying ancient documents for 40 years and I'll be 70 in August."

congratulations. if you send me your address i'll mail you your "i'm old therefore i must be smarter than you" medal

p.s. it looks like an ancient document


tinoesroho
tinoesroho

@lazarus00000 "I am in favour of forced sterilization."

 Those words killed any imaginary credibility you may have had. You have heard of the slippery slope argument. It's a short hop from saying "let's sterilize poverty-level people" to "sterilize ETHNIC group" or even "sterilize EYE color". Apparently your training didn't include logic, nor did it include basic ethics.

 You flipping 'muricans scream at the Nazis, and yet you think that their policies were laudable. Damn southerners- get off my front lawn!

NancyBroertjes
NancyBroertjes

Not to worry. When my son's school started talking about uniforms, I sent him to school with a picture of the Hitler Youth. Not every kid can afford nice clothes and expensive shoes....really? They also may not be able to afford a mansion or a Rolls Royce. Maybe this will encourage them to get an education and better themselves.