North Carolina Leads the Way in Compensation for Eugenic Sterilization Victims

Posted by Emily Beitiks March 22, 2012
Biopolitical Times
Following a decision in January by the Eugenics Compensation Task Force, North Carolina victims of sterilization are being encouraged to come forward and will hopefully receive $50,000 in compensation (pending approval of Governor Perdue’s budget, which has allotted money for this plan). Of course, no dollar amount can fully compensate what was lost for the 7,600 people who were sterilized between 1929 and 1974. However, North Carolina’s efforts are praiseworthy. So far, the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation has identified 111 victims and expects the number to further rise.

An editorial in the Winston Salem Journal points out:
If North Carolina compensates victims of its forced sterilization program, it will become a leader in a worldwide justice movement. And it would become the first American state to compensate. That milestone can't come soon enough for North Carolina's victims, who are hurting in body and soul. Some have died waiting for help.
If, as I hope will be the case, other states will follow North Carolina’s lead, what state will be next to follow suit? Recent coverage by CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen and  Anderson Cooper suggests that people are looking to California. 

More sterilizations occurred in California than any other state, claiming some 20,000 victims. In 2003, California governor Gray Davis offered a three-sentence apology, but as the Los Angeles Times noted after the event:
No survivors or disability groups were on hand to accept it. There was no order to probe for more details of a history that, according to scholars, is still largely unexplored and not fully understood.

As such a large contributor to the American eugenics movement, California should be the next in line to step up, but it should not stop there. Of the 33 U.S. states that had eugenic sterilization laws, only seven have even issued apologies.

Setting up a commission similar to North Carolina’s could be deeply significant for the victims. Drawing attention to this dark history could also serve as a warning against the prospect of misusing 21st-century genetic and reproductive technologies. As Biopolitical Times readers well know, it haunts our thinking about the reproduction of people with disabilities and people of color today.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: