Victims of Virginia’s Forced Eugenical Sterilization Act will receive $25,000 from the General Assembly after a three-year battle to include compensation in the Virginia budget.
Between 1927 to 1979, Virginia sterilized about 8,000 people deemed unfit to reproduce for reasons such as mental illness, physical deformity or homelessness.
The appropriation makes Virginia the second state to take such action following North Carolina.
The Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act, signed into law on March 20, 1924, declared that “heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy, and crime.”
The act was based on Harry Laughlin’s Model Law.
Laughlin was an official with both the American Eugenics Society and Margaret Sanger’s American Birth Control League and, in 1928, his plan for using forced sterilization to eliminate those who might produce what he called “degenerate offspring” was published in the Birth Control Review.
In 1924, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Buck v. Bell, a case challenging Virginia’s eugenics sterilization law, a model law used by many other states to sterilize their people.
In deciding Carrie Buck’s fate, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote, “Carrie Buck is a feeble minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child. She was eighteen years old at the time of the trial of her case in the Circuit Court, in the latter part of 1924. An Act of Virginia, approved March 20, 1924, recites that the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard, that the sterilization may be effected in males by vasectomy and in females by salpingectomy, without serious pain or substantial danger to life; that the Commonwealth is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society, and that experience has shown that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, imbecility…The statute then enacts that, whenever the superintendent of certain institutions, including the above-named State Colony, shall be of opinion that it is for the best interests of the patients and of society that an inmate under his care should be sexually sterilized, he may have the operation performed upon any patient afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity, imbecility…on complying with the very careful provisions by which the act protects the patients from possible abuse.”
“The judgment finds the facts that have been recited, and that Carrie Buck “is the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring, likewise afflicted, that she may be sexually sterilized without detriment to her general health, and that her welfare and that of society will be promoted by her sterilization,” and thereupon makes the order.”
Holmes went on to state, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind … Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
The law was eventually overturned and in 2002, Virginia’s Governor apologized to the victims.
Life Dynamics has produced a film which documents the eugenics movement and interviews a victim of North Carolina’s eugenics and forced sterilization program.