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Eugenic Sterilization Is STILL Going On

Sarah Chaffee


You’ve read Darwin Day in America. But what if I told you that eugenic sterilization is still happening?

A recent Aeon article says just that. It’s by Robert A. Wilson, professor of philosophy at La Trobe University in Australia, author of The Eugenic Mind Project. He used to work at the University of Alberta, in a department whose historic first head was John MacEachran. MacEachran was chairman of the Alberta Eugenics Board for over 30 years and authorized almost 3,000 sterilizations. Wilson’s work brought him into contact with survivors of Canada’s eugenics regime, eventually drawing him into research and advocacy.

Through these contacts, Wilson and others grew concerned that eugenics was not a thing of the past. He notes:

Over the years, we built a local network of survivors, activists, academics and regular community members to take a closer look at eugenics in western Canada and beyond, and to examine the broader significance of eugenics today.

And this is where it gets ugly. Wilson found that there had been recent cases of eugenic sterilization in Canada: “In late 2015 and early 2016, Canada’s national network, the Canadian Broadcasting Commission, issued several reports detailing cases in which First Nations women had recently been sterilised without, or with dubious, consent in Alberta’s neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.”

I don’t know which particular incidents he is referencing, but I found this article from CBC in October 2017 about either the same, or similar cases. Two indigenous women sued the province of Saskatchewan for coerced sterilization, both immediately after delivering children. One claimed to have been asked for her consent after being administered opioids, and the other claims to have explicitly denied consent.

It gets even closer to home. Wilson writes:

During the summer of 2013, …in California, Corey Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that women in the state prison system had been recently sterilised under conditions of missing or dubious consent, and sometimes without their knowledge. Johnson’s reporting revealed that about 150 Latina and African-American women were sterilised between 2006 and 2010.

From the article he links to, it appears some of these findings were confirmed by the state auditor: “Of the 144 tubal ligations performed on inmates from fiscal years 2005-06 to 2012-13, auditors found, more than a quarter — 39 — were done without lawful consent, according to the report by State Auditor Elaine Howle.”

Similar cases have been recorded in Australia, this time targeting those who have disabilities.

And Wilson notes that “According to UN statistics from 2006, in India 37 per cent of women have undergone sexual sterilization.” Apparently, they are often paid to do it. An article in the Guardian reported on another case in India in 2012, when 53 women had tubectomies over two hours. According to the report, many of these women were also unaware they were being permanently sterilized. The procedures were often unsanitary or done improperly, and not all the women survived the procedure. These “sterilization camps” in India were funded, in part, by USAID and the World Bank. As of 2016, the government of India has ordered the camps shut down.

No, it’s not the 1930s. But there’s a lack of respect for humanity — treating humans as humans.

Wilson writes:

The ongoing eugenic sterilisation of people with disabilities, prisoners, poor people, people from certain racialised ethnic groups and indigenous people (especially women) affects precisely the same sorts of people explicitly targeted by eugenics before 1945. These sterilisations are not a reminder of a eugenics past. They result from continuing and new eugenics pipelines. And they bring that feeling of eugenics ever closer.

The upcoming documentary Human Zoos discusses similar consequences of a Darwinian view of humanity and shows how it continues to influence our outlook today.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.