One hundred years ago, Eddie Millard was sentenced to the Indiana Reformatory in Jeffersonville after being convicted of petty larceny. He soon met with the prison's chief physician, Harry C. Sharp, MD.
"After a great many questions," Millard later wrote, Dr. Sharp told the prisoner, "I think we shall cut your cords."
Millard refused the procedure and physically resisted the doctor in the operating room, but to no avail. He was sterilized against his will. And it was perfectly legal because earlier that year Indiana, had enacted the world's first eugenic sterilization law.
The law authorized physicians to sterilize "confirmed criminals, idiots, rapists and imbeciles" in state custody for whom "procreation is inadvisable."
Between 1907 and 1974, about 2,400 Hoosiers were sterilized without their consent. About 64,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized during the period, as 31 states followed Indiana's lead. Today, 10 states still have eugenic sterilizations laws on the books, although they are not used.
To mark the law's sordid centennial, historians, physicians and ethicists gathered at the Indiana State Library in April for a daylong symposium to discuss... see more