I was troubled by the favorable portrayal of eugenics programs in Brian Sorenson’s column. He seemed to be making the case that forced sterilization is a morally responsible means of population control. What was left out of the picture is, 1) who exactly these “undesirables” are, and 2) why these people are in that “undesirable” position to begin with.
Many eugenics programs resulted in the forced or unknowing sterilization of people of color, mainly women, because these people were considered “undesirable,"on the level of breeding animals whose spiraling population had to be checked before they overran American society. According to an article on the North Carolina sterilization program, most of the women sterilized were young, black women. many were children, and most were done against the will of the child or their family. The U.S. ran a similar program in Puerto Rico, where roughly 35 percent of the women there were sterilized without being informed that they would not be able to have children afterward. These programs have historically been deceptive and racist. Also keep in mind that Nazi Germany is the best example of eugenics history has. It disturbs me that eugenics is again being floated as a solution to “overpopulation," because this usually comes at the expense of minorities. Who is deemed “undesirable” depends on the prejudices of the people in power.
Second, missing in this narrative of “undesirables” is why they came to be in that position in the first place. Society itself has helped create these extremely undesirable positions—and maintained them through governmental policies. Not surprisingly, because of the history of racism in this country, many people of color occupy these positions. In that light, eugenics does not address the real problem: a socioeconomic structure that creates these undesirable positions and then forces people into them.
Senior, Women's Studies
There is ample evidence of the potential for abuse when the state or society is authorized to decide who is fit to generate offspring and who is not. From the early 1900s when eugenics was promoted by well-intended public leaders such as Winston Churchill and Alexander Bell, to the 1940s when the Nazis took the concept to extremes sterilizing an estimated 400,000 Jews, forced sterilization is recognized around the world as a crime against humanity. Of course there are always examples as pointed out by Brian Sorenson in his editorial piece “No country for new kids,"that gives one pause as to tragic situations that cry out for a public solution. However, Sorenson’s assessment that none of his examples illustrate an “ideal parent” is exactly the sentiment that demonstrates the danger in authorizing arbitrary state assessments of who is “fit” to have children. Should societal economic concerns determine whether women of color, disable women or poor women maintain their God-given right to bring a child into this world? There are numerous examples of poor children, disabled children and children from homeless situations thriving and succeeding that offset the examples identified in Sorenson’s editorial. As callus as it may sound, I prefer allowing the concept of survival of the fittest to run its course instead of arbitrary acts of efficiency by the state. North Carolina and other states have participated in a morally criminal act and should be held accountable in the only way it can be — economically. It seems however that North Carolinians have evidently not learned anything from mistakes of the past or at are least conflicted, since they have just enacted an especially intrusive anti-abortion law, which ignores the issue of who’s fit to bring a child into the world.
Darryl O Freeman
Individual Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program
As I read Brian Sorenson's editorial piece on the forced sterilization of women during the 20th century, my reaction shifted from numb disbelief to rage. Not only is his overarching argument incoherent and absurd, but it is also morally reprehensible. He glazes over the fact that North Carolina's sterilization practices were a repugnant case of eugenics and a gross violation of the bodily autonomy of thousands of at-risk women. He implies that these women, by merit of being low-income and (most likely) of color, somehow deserved to have their reproductive rights forcibly wrested from their grasp by the state. And the key here is the fact that these individuals were women — women, who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, who are “burdens” to the patriarchal world order, who need to be silenced and to accept their lot without any sort of reparations. I do believe in voluntary sterilization as a viable method of birth control for those who don’t desire children. I do believe that improving access to reproductive health care and hormonal contraceptives is the key to curbing population growth and improving the lives of our world’s impoverished populations. I do not, however, believe it is the responsibility of men like Sorenson to determine who should or should not procreate and arrogantly remove that choice from those whom they deem as undesirable.
Junior, Natural Resource Sciences