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Richmond Times Dispatch-The Daily Progess: Compensation eyed for Virginia's victims of forced sterilization Print


Created:  Saturday, August 11, 2012

RICHMOND — A Democratic delegate from Arlington and a Christian law group from Lynchburg want the state to take full responsibility for the forced sterilization of about 8,000 people in Virginia from 1924 to 1979 — a step that could include financial compensation.

"We need to begin the process of raising awareness so that the healing process can finally begin," Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said last week in a joint statement with the Christian Law Center.

In 2002, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner offered "the commonwealth's sincere apology for Virginia's participation in eugenics," calling it "a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved."

Nationally, about 30 states had similar laws and as many as 60,000 people were sterilized overall.

Virginia sterilized so many poor, uneducated or retarded people deemed "defective" that it ranked second only behind California, which had 20,000 sterilizations.

Noting Warner's apology, Hope said: "Now we should take it a step further and Virginia should take full responsibility for its actions."

This year, North Carolina moved toward compensating surviving victims of its sterilization practice with a proposal to award $50,000 per victim, but the legislation was defeated in the state Senate.

Hope said he is unsure what compensation should, or could, be offered to any Virginia victims. He said more research is necessary to identify the Virginia victims and determine how many are alive. He said the last two forced sterilizations in Virginia took place in 1979, the year the practice was outlawed.

Hope called on Gov. Bob McDonnell to launch a task force to investigate the issue.

"Sterilization was a horrific and unconscionable policy," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "The governor will review this legislation after it is introduced."

Hope noted that 2012 marks the 85th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld Virginia's 1924 eugenics sterilization law, a model law that many other states used to sterilize their people.

Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old unwed mother, was the first person forcibly sterilized under Virginia's 1924 statute.

With its 8-1 decision in Buck v. Bell on May 2, 1927, the Supreme Court cleared the way for tens of thousands of sterilizations. Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote of Buck, her mother, and her out-of-wedlock infant, Vivian: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."