August 24, 2013
After a ten-year deliberation process, North Carolina is set to be the first state to offer monetary compensation to victims of government-sponsored sterilization.
Between 1929 and 1974, the state sterilized an estimated 7,600 people by choice, force or coercion under the authority of the North Carolina Eugenics Board program.
The North Carolina General Assembly in late July approved compensation for the remaining victims of the sterilization program. State Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the $10 million compensation package — to be distributed among living victims — as part of the state’s $20.6 billion budget shortly after the General Assembly’s vote. Verified victims will be issued a share by 2015.
The number of victims alive in 2013 is unknown. However, the state Center for Health Statistics estimates that 2,944 victims may be living as of 2010. Less than 200 people have come forward with sterilization claims, Charmaine Fuller-Cooper, former director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, told CNN.
The N.C. Eugenics Board’s program started in 1933 after a 1929 sterilization law was ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court. The 1929 law stated that “the governing body or responsible head of any penal or charitable institution supported wholly or in part by the State of North Carolina, or any sub-division thereof, is hereby authorized and directed to have the necessary operation for asexualization or sterilization performed upon any mentally defective or feeble-minded inmate of patient thereof.”
The law struck down on grounds that it did not provide adequate notice and a hearing to a person deemed in need of sterilization, nor did it allow that person the right to appeal the decision in court. A 1933 law included these missing provisions.
Under North Carolina’s law, ultimately anyone could request that someone be sterilized, though a diagnosis of either “feebleminded, epilepsy, or mentally diseased” had to be verified by “a psychologist, a physician who has made a specific examination to determine epilepsy, or a psychiatrist,” source documents state of the petition procedure. Petitions would then be assessed by the state’s eugenics board.
The five-member board included the state Commissioner of Public Welfare, the secretary of the state Board of Health, the chief medical officer of a state hospital outside Raleigh, the chief medical officer of the state hospital in Raleigh and the state attorney general.
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