Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924
The Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 greatly influenced the development of eugenics in the twentieth century. The act was based on model legislation written by Harry H. Laughlin and challenged by the Supreme Court decision of Buck v. Bell. The Supreme Court upheld the law; consequentially, proving that it was constitutional and making it model law for sterilization laws in other states. Justice Holmes wrote that a patient may be sterilized "on complying with the very careful provisions by which the act protects the patients from possible abuse." Between 1924 and 1979, Virginia sterilized over 7,000 individuals under the act. The act was never declared unconstitutional; however, in 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution apologizing for the misuse of "a respectable, 'scientific' veneer to cover activities of those who held blatantly racist views." In 2015, the Assembly agreed to compensate individuals sterilized under the act.
Laughlin's Model Eugenical Sterilization Law
During the early 20th century, Harry H. Laughlin, director of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, became concerned that states were not enforcing their eugenics laws. In 1922, he published his book, Eugenical Sterilization in the United States, which included a "MODEL EUGENICAL STERILIZATION LAW" in Chapter XV.
By 1924, 15 states had enacted similar legislation; however, unlike Virginia, many or most or all of those states failed to rigidly enforce their laws requiring specific qualities in all persons seeking to marry. Forced sterilization, however, was much more common. By 1956, twenty-four states had laws providing for involuntary sterilization on their books. These states collectively reported having forcibly sterilized 59,000 people over the preceding 50 years.
Virginia implemented Laughlin's "Model Eugenical Sterilization Law" with little modification two years after it was published.
Text from the 1924 Act
Chap. 394. - An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases. [S B 281]
Whereas, both the health of the individual patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives under careful safeguard and by competent and conscientious authority, and
Whereas, such sterilization may be effected in males by the operation of vasectomy and in females by the operation of salpingectomy, both of which said operations may be performed without serious pain or substantial danger to the life of the patient, and
Whereas, the Commonwealth has in custodial care and is supporting in various State institutions many defective persons who if now discharged or paroled would likely become by the propagation of their kind a menace to society but who if incapable of procreating might properly and safely be discharged or paroled and become self-supporting with benefit both to themselves and to society, and
Whereas, human experience has demonstrated that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of sanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime, now, therefore
1. Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That whenever the superintendent of the Western State Hospital, or of the Eastern State Hospital, or of the Southwestern State Hospital, or of the Central State Hospital, or the State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, shall be of opinion that it is for the best interests of the patients and of society that any inmate of the institution under his care should be sexually sterilized, such superintendent is herby authorized to perform, or cause to be performed by some capable physicians or surgeon, the operation of sterilization on any such patient confined in such institution afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy; provided that such superintendent shall have first complied with the requirements of this act.
2. Such superintendent shall first present to the special board of directors of his hospital or colony a petition stating the facts of the case and the grounds of his opinion, verified by his affidavit to the best of his knowledge and belief, and praying that an order may be entered by said board requiring him to perform or have performed by some competent physician to be designated by him in his said petition or by said board in its order, upon the inmate of his institution named in such petition, the operation of vasectomy if upon a male and of salpingectomy if upon a female.
A copy of said petition must be served upon the inmate together with a notice in writing designating the time and place in the said institution, not less than thirty days before the presentation of such petition to said special board of directors when and where said board may hear and act upon such petition
—Virginia General Assembly, March 20, 1924
Sterilization law after 1988
An act, passed by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1988 and amended in 2013, provides the procedural requirements necessary for a physician to lawfully sterilize a patient capable of giving informed consent and incapable of giving informed consent. A physician may perform a sterilization procedure on a patient if the patient is capable of giving informed consent, the patient consents to the procedure in writing, and the physician explains the consequences of the procedure and alternative methods of contraception. A court may authorize a physician to perform a sterilization on a mentally incompetent adult or child after the procedural requirements are met and the court finds with clear and convincing evidence the patient is or is likely to engage sexual activity, no other contraceptive is reasonably available, the patient's mental disability renders the patient permanently unable to care for a child, and the procedure conforms with medical standards.
Apology and compensation
In February 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution, introduced by Mitchell Van Yahres, expressing regret for Virginia's experience with eugenics. In the 2002 session, Van Yahres introduced a joint resolution honoring the memory of Carrie Buck. This joint resolution was passed by the House and Senate in February 2002. In same year, Bob Marshall, introduced a joint resolution referencing the 2001 eugenics resolution and calling for the establishment of a subcommittee to study issues related to stem cell research; however, this resolution did not pass the Rules committee. In 2013 and 2014, Marshall introduced the Justice for Victims of Sterilization Act to give compensation for up to $50,000 per person; however, the bill did not get past the Appropriations committee in either year. In 2015, Patrick A. Hope reintroduced the Justice for Victims of Sterilization Act, and although the Act did not get past the Appropriations committee, an amendment was added to the budget bill to give compensation of up to $25,000 per person who was "involuntarily sterilized pursuant to the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act."
Eligibility for compensation
The legislature authorized compensation of up to $25,000 per claim to provide compensation for individuals sterilized "pursuant to the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act and who were living as of February 1, 2015." If the person died on or after February 1, 2015, a claim may be submitted by the estate or personal representative of the person who died.
Lewis Reynolds, a United States Marine Corps veteran sterilized for epilepsy, said that he would be happy to get $25,000 dollars, but he would have preferred to get $50,000, the amount given under North Carolina's eugenics compensation program. Mark Bold, CEO of the Christian Law Institute, stated that the language the legislature developed was overly broad and allowed social workers and communities to target individuals for sterilization for even trivial reasons.
- "Central Virginia Training Center, History".
- Phyllis Miller. "A Brief History of Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute" (PDF).
- Nathalie Antonios (April 14, 2011). "Sterilization Act of 1924". The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. ISSN 1940-5030. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
- Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 206, 47 S. Ct. 584, 584, 71 L. Ed. 1000 (1927)
- Lutz Kaelber. "Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States". University of Vermont.
- "House Joint Resolution No. 607 (2001 Session)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- Laughlin, Chapter XV
- Bernhard Schreiber, THE MEN BEHIND HITLER: A German warning to the world, Trans. by H. R. Martindale, "Appendix 1"
- "Virginia Sterilization Act of 3/20/1924". Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
- "Sexual Sterilization, Virginia Code §§ 54.1-2974 - 54.1-2980". General Assembly of Virginia. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
- "House Joint Resolution No. 299". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "2003 Session House Joint Resolution No. 148". Virginia General Assembly.
- "House Bill No.1529 (2013 Session)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "House Bill No. 74 (2014 Session)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "House Bill No. 1504 (2015 Session)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "Summary of 2014-16 Budget Actions Chapter 665 (Introduced as House Bill 1400)" (PDF). House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. May 12, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "HB 1400 Budget Bill (2015 Session)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "Comparison of House and Senate Budget Amendments House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 800" (PDF). House Appropriations Committee Staff.
- "Budget Amendment Items, 2014-16 Biennium (HB5002/SB5003)". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- "Virginia's forced sterilization victims each to get $25k restitution payments for eugenics program". Russia Today.