Thursday, 14 February 2008

An Ugly Bit of History

Hey, guess what I found out about recently?

Alberta had a eugenics program, which ran from 1928 until 1972. That's 44 years of forced sterilization. It was called the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. According to Wikipedia, almost 3,000 people were sterilized - most of them against their will. Maybe you knew that already, but I was blissfully unaware of any such awful thing running here, in my province.

The idea was to sterilize mentally deficient people to keep them from passing their problems onto any children and thus burdening society. Voluntary sterilization is one thing, but these weren't voluntary. Apparently it began that way, but the government soon dropped the whole "must have consent from the person or guardian" thing when the program wasn't proving effective enough. Mentally deficient or not, sterilizing someone against their will is, I think, a breech of human rights.

It's too bad that I couldn't find any more prestigious Internet sources about the Alberta Eugenics Board than Wiki or Answers.com, but I suspect they've got the gist right, well enough. Although Aboriginals accounted for only 2-3% of the Albertan population, they accounted for at least 25% of the the sterilizations in the final few years of the program. Also, teens and young adults, though comprising only about 20% of the population, accounted for 55% of the sterilizations. 58% of the 2832 operations were performed on women. Sometimes it wasn't just sterilization, either, but they would remove certain kinds of tissue to perform experiments on.

People up to have their cases reviewed before the board would undergo an IQ test. If they failed, they were considered mentally deficient. Sometimes, however, these tests were given to recent immigrants, who had not yet learned English, and therefore failed despite having adequate intelligence. In other cases, like Leilani Muir, it was an inadequate education that caused her to score poorly, not a bad IQ. It didn't matter. Most of these people were sterilized, anyway. There is also evidence that sometimes people were scheduled for operations before their cases had even been reviewed.

If this isn't disgusting enough as it is, the program continued through the years 1939-1945. That is, it ran straight through World War II. Here we are, aghast at the Nazis for what they're doing to people, but look at us! We've got our own kiddie version of their program. Granted, the Albertan government didn't kill anyone, but it's still an eery mirror of what we were fighting against in Germany. My prof said that there's actually some evidence that Hitler was inspired by the Albertan eugenics program, but I'm not sure what nor where that evidence might be.

Oh - guess what else? The person first put in charge of the board was a psychologist - John. M. MacEachran. Yup, he's the same one who set up the psychology department in the U of A. Whoo! And I want to be a psychologist when I grow up! All I can say about that is I'm upset that the psych department still honours him with a lecture series and offers scholarships in his name. Maybe he meant well, but it was all wrong.

Now, I can understand wanting to have fewer mentally deficient people in our society, but having that desire does not justify eugenics. Not even eugenics to weed out the mentally handicapped. Why? Because, even it weren't a scientifically flawed plan, a) they're still people with rights, and b) as soon as it's okay to do it to mentally handicapped people, why wouldn't it be okay to do it to anyone else who is not "up to snuff"? It's the start down a really scary and slippery slope.

I was, and am, proud to be Albertan, but this is a black and ugly chapter in our history. Not a very happy Valentine's Day post, is it?

Now, to lighten the mood:
If your parents never had children, chances are you won't, either. -Dick Cavett

1 comment:

art said...

I do not agree with forced sterilizations - but which is worse: sterilizing a person to prevent a new life or abortion which is murdering a living being. If murdering is worse (I would think most people would choose sterilization over death) then Alberta's dark history continues to this very day.

Another topic related is: When is it okay for the government to step in a remove a child from its parents? This is less severe then sterilization but the end is result is the same in that the mother(father) is not allowed to raise children.