Involuntary Sterilization of Disabled Americans: An Historical Overview

Involuntary Sterilization of Disabled Americans: An Historical Overview November 6, 2018/4 Comments/in Disability /by Jesse Reiter

Thousands of Americans with disabilities have undergone sterilization procedures without providing informed consent. Beginning in the early 1900s, supporters of the eugenics movement sought to sterilize those with cognitive impairments in order to “cleanse” the human gene pool of “undesirable” traits. This was sanctioned by many state governments, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court (Buck v. Bell). To the surprise of many, this Supreme Court ruling has never been formally overturned. Moreover, non-consensual sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities is still legal in many parts of the U.S., although the motivations behind it have shifted.

Why is non-consensual sterilization still legal, and under what circumstances is it allowed?

The non-consensual sterilizations that are performed today are typically done so at the request of a disabled person’s parents or guardians, who believe that sterilization (hysterectomies, vasectomies, etc.) will improve their child/ward’s quality of life and/or make them easier to care for.

Here, we will discuss the laws and ethics surrounding the sterilization of disabled people. First, we’ll provide some historical context on the eugenics movement, and then explore current controversies regarding consent and decision-making power.

The rise of eugenics [...]

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