Bioethics Blogs

Canadian Eugenics Survivor and Activist Leilani Muir Dies at Age 71

Leilani (O’Malley) Muir, a survivor of the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta, Canada, passed away on the weekend of March 12 at the age of 71.

Following an abusive childhood, Muir’s mother committed her to Alberta’s Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives at the age of eleven, falsely claiming that she had cognitive disabilities. The Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta allowed the province to sterilize any ward of a mental health institution whom its Eugenics Board considered “mentally defective” and at risk of transmitting “defective genes” to future children.

Under this act, nearly 3,000 residents of Alberta were sterilized between 1928 and 1972, when the law was finally repealed.

When she was fourteen years old, Muir was brought before the Provincial Eugenics Board and briefly questioned. After this session, the board recommended sterilization, citing as the reason “Danger of the transmission to the progeny of Mental Deficiency or Disability, also incapable of Intelligent parenthood.”

Told doctors would be removing her appendix, Muir was sterilized without her knowledge. She only learned what had happened to her many years later when she and her husband were unable to conceive a child.

She grew determined to achieve justice for herself and others impacted by forced sterilization. In 1996, Leilani Muir became the first individual to sue the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization. She won her case, Muir v. The Queen in Right of Alberta, in a judgment that stated:

The circumstances of Ms. Muir’s sterilization were so high-handed and so contemptuous of the statutory authority to effect sterilization, and were taken in an atmosphere that so little respected Ms.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.