North Carolina is looking to set up a compensation system for victims of its since-discredited eugenics program, which was by far the nation’s most expansive post-World War II system for sterilizing individuals, many of which had disabilities, against their will.
On June 22, about a dozen victims of the sterilization program, as well as family members of the victims, spoke in front of a state task force designed to make recommendations for designing a compensation system. If the legislature approves the system in spring, it will be the first of its kind in the nation.
Nial Ramirez, one of the nearly 3,000 individuals sterilized by the state still alive today, gave birth to a daughter at age 17. However, she was then convinced by a social worker, who told her that the surgery could be reversed later in life, that it would be best to be sterilized.
“I was lied to and butchered,” Ramirez wrote in a letter read by her daughter, according to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer. “I was being set up to be sterilized like I was some type of animal.”
Sterilization was legal in 33 states in the early 1900s, but most states abandoned the practice after World War II amid the ensuing revelations about the Nazi’s widespread eugenics programs.
North Carolina’s program, however, peaked in the late 1950s and 1960s. Of the approximately 7,600 sterilizations that occurred in the state in the 20th century, about 70 percent of them occurred after the war, according to an article by the Associated Press.
North Carolina had the nation’s most open-ended program. In every other state with a eugenics programs, individuals had to be institutionalized or jailed prior to becoming sterilized.
In North Carolina, doctors and social had the ability to recommend any individual for sterilization to its state Eugenics Board. The boarded deemed individuals improper for parenthood if they were “feebleminded,” a term which normally referred to people who had mental disabilities, or were poor and uneducated.
Seven states have formally apologized for their sterilization programs, including North Carolina in 2002 following an investigative series by the Winston-Salem Journal detailing the program’s then-largely secret history.
It is estimated that more than 60,000 people were sterilized nationwide in the 20th century.