Marginalized groups of men and women have endured many atrocities related to reproductive and sexual health throughout the decades, but there is one atrocity in particular that has been secretly practiced in both America and in other countries “for the good of society.” Involuntary sterilization is a method to remove the ability for men and women to become fertile. Thus, these people are unable to produce offspring or further their family line. Involuntary sterilization occurs for different reasons depending on the country.
Forced sterilization was developed in the early 1900’s by western eugenicists. Some of these individuals were also proponents of genocide and assisted suicide, and to them, forced sterilization was just another method to ensure the success of future generations. Forced sterilization began in Indiana, and spread to 30 other states. Most recently, California was put into the spotlight because people discovered that 150 female inmates were illegally sterilized without their consent. Unfortunately, up until recently, forced sterilization was a common practice for those who were poor, on welfare, committed to asylums, or had a handicap such as being blind or deaf. For proponents of forced sterilization, this method ensured that these marginalized groups did not pass on defects that were “a menace to society.” Forced sterilization was also used to cut down on costs related to housing individuals in asylums or prisons.
Eventually, forced sterilization became a legal way to ensure that only certain genetic traits passed on to the next generation, and those who were deemed to lack the potential to a good parent were robbed of the choice to be a parent. Alarmingly, many famous historic individuals were supporters of forced sterilization, including Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone) and John Harvey Kellogg, who invented cornflakes. These people weren’t necessarily evil, but they truly believed they were doing something beneficial for the majority of society.
In Kenya, women who were HIV-positive underwent tubal ligation (the name of the sterilization procedure) without being informed prior to the surgery. These women were not only ostracized because they were HIV-positive, their choice and ability to have children was ripped away from them. Husbands divorced them because they were of no use to them without the ability to have children, and some women lost their job because they were HIV-positive.
In India, rural women underwent forced sterilization in completely unsanitary conditions. These women were sterilized as part of a government sterilization initiative that was created in the 1970s’ that was meant to curb population growth and control the passing of any defective or unwanted genetic traits. Although India is now reforming their family planning strategies at the government level, there are still state level officials who assign target quotas for sterilization that surgeons must meet each year.
It seems that forced sterilization was not meant to be an atrocious act, and many intellectuals believed that it was a positive way for protecting future generations. Unfortunately, the practice of forced sterilization is an invasion of personal rights that can affect an individual’s quality of life in a myriad of ways. There are now many organizations that have been created for the sole purpose of the elimination of forced sterilization, and it has now become illegal in many countries and states if informed consent and freedom of choice is not provided. For more information on two organizations that are committed to ending forced sterilization, please click on one of the links below.