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Georgia Measure Would Bring Sterilization Apology
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 5, 2007

ATLANTA, GEORGIA--By 1935, American eugenics -- a powerful social movement based on the idea that society's problems could be solved if those considered "superior" were allowed to make more children while those considered "inferior" were no longer allowed to have children -- was going strong.

Lawmakers from several states had already adopted laws making it mandatory to operate on people with physical, developmental and psychiatric disabilities, along with homosexuals and other "undesirables", to make sure they did not have children.

Eight years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in an 8-to-1 vote that Virginia's eugenic sterilization law did not violate the constitutional rights of Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old inmate of a Virginia institution.

Still, some Americans were worried that Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler was getting ahead of the U.S. in terms of purifying the "white race".

That year, the Georgia Legislature passed its own mandatory sterilization bill, but Governor Eugene Talmadge vetoed it.

Two years later, with a more supportive governor in place, the measure became law.

Between 1937 and 1970, an estimated 3,300 Georgians were legally forced to undergo sterilization surgery. They were some of the estimated 66,000 people from the U.S. and two Canadian provinces who were officially sterilized under such laws between 1914 and 1980.

The eugenics movement lost strength after it was learned that Nazis had gone a step further and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Europeans considered "useless eaters", and after it was discovered that most of the research that eugenics was based on was worthless.

In May 2002, following efforts from a handful of disability rights advocates, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner apologized for his state's role in eugenics which led to the sterilization of more than 7,000 Virginians. That was followed fairly rapidly by apologies from the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and California.

Some advocates in Georgia are now supporting House Resolution 122, which would have the Legislature express "profound regret for Georgia's participation in the eugenics movement in the United States".

The measure was drafted by eugenics scholar Paul Lombardo, who said it would raise public awareness about the state's eugenics history, and might give comfort to the surviving victims whose ability to have children and grandchildren was taken away by the state.

But the measure has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee, where Chairperson Sharon Cooper said the panel would probably not hold a hearing on it during this session.

Cooper told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "I'm not sure I agree with one generation apologizing for another generation when all the parties that were involved are long dead."

"In the whole world there is lots of history that, seen in today's eyes, we would certainly hope would never be repeated, but it's history. You can't change it."

To this, Lombardo responded, "My feeling is there is no statute of limitations on the need to apologize", adding that many of the victims may indeed still be alive, since the practice was not ended until just 37 years ago.

"Apology asked for sterilizations state required" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"The horror of forced sterilization" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"Apology: The right thing to do" (Macon Telegraph)
"The eugenics apologies" By Dave Reynolds (The Ragged Edge Magazine)
Expanded Coverage from Inclusion Daily Express

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