Auditor blasts illegal sterilization of inmates

by John Seiler | June 19, 2014 2:40 pm

Tuskegee Syphilis StudyIt’s hard to think of anything more dehumanizing that illegally sterilizing someone. It takes away their right to reproduce.

But that’s what happened in California prisons from 2005 to 2013. An audit released today[1] by the California Auditor looked into the malpractice. If found:

“During our review of the female inmate sterilizations performed in fiscal years 2005–06 through 2012–13, we noted the following: Of the 144 inmates that underwent tubal ligation, 39 (or almost 30 percent) were performed without lawful consent.”

Although these are prison inmates, their basic human dignity cannot be taken from them. The Eighth Amendment[2] to the U.S. Constitution clearly prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” which this obviously was, on both counts.

The sterilizations sickeningly call to mind a practice thought to have been abandoned long ago when governments involuntarily sterilized people on “eugenics” grounds before World War II. And which was approved by the infamous phrase of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1927 Buck vs. Bell case[3], “three generations of imbeciles is enough” (which might better describe the court itself since those days).

The scandal also calls to mind the U.S. government’s infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. A University of Virginia summary explained:

“For forty years, from 1932 to 1972, 399 African-American males were denied treatment for syphilis and deceived by officials of the United States Public Health Service. As part of a study conducted in Macon County, Alabama, poor sharecroppers were told they were being treated for ‘bad blood.’ In fact, the physicians in charge of the study ensured that these men went untreated.”

Then there was a similar U.S. government study, as reported by CNN[4]:

Research from Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby has uncovered evidence of an experiment in Guatemala that infected people with sexually transmitted diseases in an effort to explore treatments.”

Turning back to California, the Auditor recommended:

“We made many recommendations to the Receiver’s Office including that it refer the 39 cases in which sterilizations were performed without lawful consent to the Medical Board of California and the California Department of Public Health to investigate physician and hospital practices, respectively.”

Let’s hope those responsible for the dehumanizing sterilizations are deprived of their medical licenses and face other disciplinary measures.

  1. An audit released today:
  2. Eighth Amendment:
  3. Buck vs. Bell case:
  4. reported by CNN:

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