North Carolina First State to Offer Compensation to Victims of Forced Sterilization

By Philip Shepherd | January 10, 2012 | 9:53pm EST

A highway historical marker in North Carolina to mark the state's dark history in eugenical sterilizations between 1933 and 1973, when more than 7,600 were forcibly sterilized by the state. (AP Photo)

( - A task force set up in March 2011 by Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) charged with evaluating potential compensation for victims of forced sterilization made its recommendation on Tuesday, making North Carolina the first state to seek compensation for victims.  Several other states have offered apologies but no compensation.

The five-member Eugenics Task Force was established by Executive Order No. 83, which stated that “an estimated 7,600 North Carolinians – women and men – many of whom were poor, uneducated, sick or disabled, were sterilized by force or coercion under the authorization of the North Carolina Eugenics Board between 1929 and 1974.”

The task force today has recommended $50,000 per victim. It had considered amounts between $20,000 and $50,000, while a victims’ group and family members proposed an amount of $1 million for each victim.

The task force also recommended a three-year statute of limitations on claims and the establishment of a fund for mental health services for the victims.

North Carolina officials believe that anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 victims may still be alive and have, so far, verified 72 victims.

Human baby in the womb. (AP Photo)

Under the eugenics programs, state government officials sterilized close to 7,600  people in North Carolina from 1929 to 1974.  These programs were designed to weed out people the state considered undesirable by sterilizing unknowing victims.

In a document on what occurred published by the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, it states that eugenics, which developed in the 1800s, constituted the “selective breeding of humans and animals to rid the population of characteristics deemed unfit.” It defines sterilization as “medical procedures that leave a person unable to conceive children.”

By 1935, there were sterilization laws in 25 states, according to the document.  For North Carolina, the first sterilization law was passed in 1929 and a reported 49 people were sterilized under that law. In 1937, a sterilization hospital stay law was enacted in North Carolina. It allowed for the “temporary admission of individuals into state hospitals for the purpose of sterilization,” reads the document.

Between the years 1933 and 1977, an estimated 7,528 people were sterilized in North Carolina.

A eugenical sterilization report from June 30, 1935, in North Carolina, shows that there were 18 vasectomies, 26 castrations, 12 ovariectomies (removal of ovaries), and 167 salpingectomies (removal of a fallopian tube).

Another document shows the age ranges of some of the people forcibly sterilized. These include 445 males ages 10-19 and 2,545 females ages 10-19.  Another 368 males between ages 20-29 were also sterilized, as were 2,553 females.

Some of the highest number of sterilizations in North Carolina were from July 1950 to June 1960 – 2,983 total; and July 1960 to June 1968 – 1,620 total.

Charts and information produced by the task force also describe Life Table Assumptions, which show the distribution of victims as “73% ‘mentally retarded’ or ‘feeble-mindedness,’ i.e., intellectual or developmental disability.” It also lists “22% ‘mental disease’ and ‘mental illness’” and “’5% epilepsy.’”

Notes from an Oct. 25, 1950 meeting of the Eugenics Board in North Carolina concerning a patient who apparently was sterilized by the order of the state. The document was released by the Governor's Task Force to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board.

In the minutes from an Oct. 25, 1950 Eugenics Board meeting, it lists the doctors and state officials present and, in part, states:  “Since no one appeared for the hearing in the case of [redacted] the following action was taken on this hearing case. … 1 [redacted].  It was the decision of the board that this person is feeble-minded, and upon motion by Mr. Brown, seconded by Mr. Beckwith, sterilization was ordered in accordance with the petition. … 1. [redacted] It was the decision of the board that this person is feeble-minded, and upon motion by Mr. Beckwith, seconded by Dr. Long, sterilization was ordered in accordance with the petition. 2 [redacted] It was the decision of the board that this person is feeble-minded, and upon motion by Dr. Long, seconded by Dr. Hamilton, sterilization was ordered in accordance with the petition.”

The task force’s recommendation now goes to Gov. Perdue who will make a final recommendation that must be approved by the Legislature.

In 1974, a $10-million settlement was reached between victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and the U.S. Government.  It was not until 1997, however, when President Bill Clinton apologized on behalf of the nation, that the victims received a formal and official apology from the government.

Michael W. Chapman contributed to this report.

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