May 7, 2002 --
Last Thursday, May 2, Virginia "became the first state to officially apologize for sterilizing thousands of people with disabilities during the last century," writes Inclusion Daily's Dave Reynolds. The date of Gov. Mark R. Warner's apology was significant: it was the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Buck v. Bell decision upholding Virginia's eugenics sterilization statute. Warner called Buck V. Bell "a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved. "We must remember the commonwealth's past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring," he said.
Two articles in recent weeks by Richmond Times Dispatch Washington correspondent Peter Hardin outline the role the state played in the national eugenics movement. "Virginia was in the forefront of American eugenics," writes Hardin.
Last year the legislature voiced "profound regret" for the states role in the U.S. eugenics movement of the early part of the century -- "but not before over 60,000 Americans had been forced to undergo surgery to make them sterile," says Reynolds, who adds that 8,000 of those were housed in Virginia's institutions.
At a recent conference at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which houses a repository of images and data on the American eugenics movement, scholars said that Virginia simply fabricated the legal case portraying Carrie Buck as morally "degenerate" and "feebleminded" to get its new sterilization law affirmed, " and the Supreme Court went along." Scholars attending the meeting sought parallels between the eugenics movement, which sought to weed out supposedly defective hereditary traits, and today's unfolding new age of genetics. "Are practices of modern medical genetics, intended to combat certain intractable diseases with a strong hereditary factor, influenced by eugenic thinking?" wrote Hardin. "Although coerced sterilization has been largely consigned to the past since Nazi Germany embraced it, is there a eugenic principle in parents' decisions to end certain pregnancies after genetic testing results are delivered?"
Hardin's stories -- "Eugenics Gains Second Chance; New Age Of Genetics Spurs Debate," from the Apr. 27 Richmond Times-Dispatch, and "Warner Action Makes Virginia First State to Denounce Movement," published May 2 -- can be downloaded for a small fee from the Times-Dispatch archives at http://www.archivesva.com
More information about the eugenics movement is available from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's National Eugenics Archive, online at http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/ Background and other stories on Virginia's eugenics past can be found at the Inclusion Daily Express website at http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/advocacy/vaeugenics.htm