CGS Board Member Leads Redress Call for California Survivors of Eugenic Sterilization

Scholars researching California’s twentieth-century legacy of eugenic sterilization, led by University of Michigan professor and Center for Genetics and Society Advisory Board member Alexandra Minna Stern, are urging state legislators to consider reparations for survivors of this abusive chapter in California’s history.

An estimated 20,000 people underwent compulsory sterilization in state institutions from 1909, when California passed its eugenics law, well into the 1950s. According to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health, based on painstaking analysis of historical records, the research team estimates that as many as 831 people sterilized under that law are alive today.

“The remaining survivors of California’s eugenic sterilization program deserve further societal acknowledgement and redress,” the researchers wrote.

And the researchers emphasize that “time is of the essence”: According to their estimates, the average age of the survivors is 87.9 years.

“We suggest that interested stakeholders, including public health advocates, legislators, reproductive justice and disability rights activists, and survivors willing to come forward, move quickly to ensure that California takes steps toward reparations and full accountability for this past institutional and reproductive injustice.”

Their efforts aren’t being ignored. The findings have drawn media attention from high-profile outlets including The Atlantic, the New York Times, NPR Weekend Edition, Scientific American, and the Los Angeles Times. Much of the coverage highlights the call for California officials to make serious efforts to identify the survivors and consider offering them monetary compensation. Such reparations programs have been established with bipartisan support in North Carolina and Virginia, which had similar eugenic sterilization programs.

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.