North Carolina Panel Votes to Pay Forced Sterilization Victims $50,000 Each
Moving to right an appalling wrong, a gubernatorial panel in North Carolina voted Tuesday to pay victims of a forced sterilization program $50,000 each.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force, established by Gov. Beverly Perdue last March, voted to pay each victim $50,000. It is the first time that a state has moved toward compensating victims of eugenics programs. Fully 33 states had such programs; seven states have acknowledged or apologized for them.
North Carolina’s forced sterilization program existed from 1929 until 1974, with involuntary sterilization laws remaining on the books until 2003. The program was designed to eliminate mentally disabled, criminals and other “undesirables” from North Carolina’s population. Forced sterilizations peaked in the years following World War II, despite widespread revulsion at similar programs in Nazi Germany.
There were 7,528 documented cases of forced sterilization in North Carolina. As many as 2,000 victims are still alive, but the state has only verified 72 of them.
The state’s Eugenics Board, closed in 1977, included chief medical officers from state hospitals, officials from the disgustingly named Institution for the Feeble-Minded, state attorney generals and state health board secretaries.
North Carolina had the most sweeping eugenics laws in the nation, enabling doctors and even social workers to refer people living on their own to the Eugenics Board for sterilization. In other states, candidates for sterilization had to be imprisoned or institutionalized as a prerequisite for the procedure.
Poor, illiterate blacks were particularly vulnerable to forced sterilization, although the majority of victims were white.
Shockingly, female promiscuity was considered valid grounds for forced sterilization in North Carolina. So was poverty. Some 85% of the victims were females, some of them as young as ten years old.
WRAL reported on the testimonies of some of the victims.
“They cut me open like I was a hog,” testified Elaine Riddick, who was forcibly sterilized in 1968 at the tender age of 13 after she was raped by a neighbor and carried the child to term. “My body was too young for what they did.”
Mary Frances-Smith testified that a doctor laughed at her when she told him she was getting married and wanted the procedure reversed. She said they’d lied to her and told her that the operation was simply a way for her to stop worrying about birth control.
“When you go through something like that, you don’t get over it,” she said.
The $50,000 compensation payments must now be approved ny the state legislature. If approved, victims would have three years to apply for compensation.
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