CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia officials are looking into updating or repealing a state law that allows for the involuntary sterilization of “mentally incompetent” people.
West Virginia is the only state that still has such a law on its books.
Mark Bold of the Christian Law Institute in Lynchburg, Va., is advocating striking the law and compensating those were sterilized in the past.
State Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman said the agency is looking at updating the language in that chapter of the law, according to The Charleston Gazette. It will recommend a course of action to department officials, the governor’s office and the Legislature.
Officials said sterilization was used regularly in the 1920s and ‘30s but that it hadn’t been used since the 1950s.
Bold and Dadisman said it is not clear how many West Virginians were sterilized under the law.
Steve Canterbury, administrator for the West Virginia Supreme Court, said the law was used nearly a century ago to sterilize anyone “who had the slightest degree of mental handicaps, retardation, whatever.”
“I don’t know anyone who is happy this law is still on the books,” he said. “The Legislature will have to change this. It is part of the code, so it will require legislative action.”
Most states had eugenics programs but abandoned those efforts after World War II when such practices became closely associated with Nazi Germany’s attempts to achieve racial purity. Scientists also debunked the assumption that “defective” humans could be weeded out of the population.
In 1942, the Supreme Court overturned a 1927 decision that allowed sterilization.
In his opinion in the latter case, Justice William O. Douglas stated, “In evil or reckless hands, it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to wither and disappear.”