Local eugenics past and present: A rare self-examination
Posted by Doug Pet on October 28th, 2010
|Leilani Muir, forcibly
sterilized by the Alberta
government at age 14.|
The University of Alberta's historical connection to state-sponsored eugenics made it an ominously appropriate setting for last week's Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada Conference. The event gathered historians, community members and victims to re-examine the history of forced sterilization in the province.
The conference reflected on local eugenics past and present, highlighting the Alberta Sterilization Act (ASA), effective from 1928 to 1972, which led to the forced or otherwise coerced sterilization of 2,800 people deemed "mentally unfit." Leilani Muir, whose successful 1995 lawsuit made her the ASA's most well known victim, spoke on the importance of amplifying voices of sterilization victims.
We've gotta make sure this never happens again because my attitude is if I don't talk about this and keep it out forefront, history will repeat itself in some way because history always does repeat.
Others used the ASA's historical context to frame modern eugenic problems, such as socially based reproductive disenfranchisement of the intellectually disabled. One speaker noted,
We've significantly restricted people's access to sexual and reproductive health information and as it pertains to people with intellectual disabilities, our focus has been largely on prevention by isolation and that seems to be our most effective sterilization strategy in the modern age.
This event's acknowledgement of past eugenics in relation to modern reproductive injustices represents a wider societal responsibility largely unfulfilled in North America. Of the thirty-three US states that sponsored eugenic sterilization programs, only a handful have issued formal apologies; even fewer offer ongoing support for victims.
However, formal political apologies alone fall far short of what is needed to prevent these histories from repeating themselves. Communities should follow Alberta's lead, endorsing public discussion and education that examines modern reproductive and disability rights issues - including the wider social implications of IVF, PGD and trait-selective abortion - in the light of past eugenic follies.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Doug Pet's Blog Posts, Eugenics, Genetic Selection, Other Countries, Reproductive Justice, Health & Rights
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