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January 10th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

North Carolina task force recommends $50,000 for sterilization victims

By Debra Goldschmidt, CNN

(CNN) – Living people who were forcibly sterilized as part of a decades-long eugenics program in North Carolina should receive a one-time payment of $50,000, a state task force recommended on Tuesday.

North Carolina sterilized an estimated 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974, many of them against their will. The state apologized for the sterilizations in 2002, and Gov. Bev Perdue created the compensation task force last year. Many states once had eugenics programs, and seven have apologized, but North Carolina is the first to consider paying victims.

The five-member task force - including a doctor, lawyer, historian, retired judge and retired journalist – met for 10 months and has a February 1 deadline to send a report, including recommendations for compensation, to the governor.

The payments will need to be approved by North Carolina's legislature, and nobody is saying yet where money for victims would come from - some estimates put the number of living victims at 1,500. Task force spokeswoman Jill Lucas said Perdue will include the recommended payment in the budget she submits to the state legislature, which will take it up this spring. There is a three-year statute of limitations, so victims need to come forward soon.

The task force also recommends more aggressive outreach to identify victims, mental health services for living victims, the continuation and expansion of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, which operates the task force, as well as the creation of permanent and traveling exhibits to educate the public about the state’s defunct eugenics program. The task force noted the need to ensure that the $50,000 payment won't result in victims losing eligibility for other benefits they might already be receiving.

Even deciding how to make up for the eugenics program is no easy task. Historians and experts on compensation say there are no comparable examples to model monetary reparations after. This is a far different situation than better-known reparations debates, such as slavery, for which no compensation has been awarded, or the Nazi Holocaust, which is tied to individual awards allotted after an extensive documentation process. The closest example, experts say, is the 1988 decision by the U.S. Senate to pay $20,000 to Japanese-Americans who were held in internment camps during World War II. Surviving victims were paid the flat fee for the suffering caused by displacement.

Steven Selden, a University of Maryland professor and author of the book “Inheriting Shame: The Story of Eugenics and Racism in America,” said the national eugenics movement was about altering the gene pool and eliminating people who spoke, looked, or behaved differently. What set North Carolina apart was how recently it occurred: Most states stopped after World War II, but North Carolina continued sterilizing people into the 1970s.

Selden said $50,000 is a substantial amount that carries symbolic significance. But, he believes paying any amount can be part of an ethical slippery slope that allows a price to be assigned to something that's priceless. It’s a bad idea, he said, because paying victims can start to seem like an easy way out.

"The question is, do we diminish the importance of it (by paying victims)?” he said. “I think those demanding reparations should think about it. Giving a dollar amount could be of just value, but there are other things that should be considered as well."

He would like to know more about the educational exhibits the task force recommends and suggests the state put money toward a curriculum for teaching the history and biology of eugenics. North Carolina could be a bellwether for other states, especially those that had eugenics programs of their own. Education better ensures it won’t happen again, he said.

"By making it an education issue and putting money into schools, it takes it long past the people who were harmed,” Selden said. “It's a win and a lose for North Carolina. They can lose by saying ‘We're not going to pay anyone,’ but the win can be that they say ‘We are going to change how we educate about this issue and that will lead to a national conversation.’”

University of North Carolina School of Law Professor Alfred Brophy, author of the book “Reparations: Pro and Con,” said North Carolina's eugenics program is an extraordinary circumstance of life-altering harm to individuals, which strengthens the case for reparations.

Brophy, who calls himself an advocate of reparations, said he's pleasantly surprised by the task force recommendation for payment. However, it's important for the public to first know the “human dimensions” of forced sterilizations, he said.  A legislative decision on the amount of money offered to victims shouldn’t be determined until more details about the forced sterilization cases are known, he said.

"Truth and reconciliation needs to come first," Brophy said.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation created by Perdue continues to search for victims of the state’s eugenics program. Charmaine Fuller Cooper, the executive director of the foundation, said it receives about 200 calls per month from possible victims or their family members. They’ve confirmed that 72 of those who contacted them were victims and are working to verify more reports.

There are few public details about who - if any - were targeted for sterilization and how they were coerced into it. Nationally, many eugenics programs focused on criminals and mentally ill people, but in North Carolina, it extended to healthy women and children, many of them poor and uneducated. Mothers were pushed or tricked into signing release forms for their young daughters to undergo the sterilization operation under threat of losing state-provided aid or custody.

Their stories and circumstances have only begun to emerge recently, sometimes in emotional public hearings, sometimes in phone calls to the victims foundation.

Elaine Riddick was just 14 when she got pregnant after being raped. After giving birth to her only child 43 years ago, Riddick was sterilized. Her illiterate grandmother was bullied into signing the consent forms for the procedure.

Naomi Schenck was 16 when she got married, and was on her way to motherhood by 17. She went to the hospital after a miscarriage and left after a hysterectomy she didn't authorize. She never became a mother.

Men weren't spared, either. Charles Holt was 19 and living in an institution for boys when he was sterilized, and wasn’t aware of what it meant until after the vasectomy.

Fuller Cooper said monetary compensation could inspire more victims to come forward, but it could be years before the issue is settled. Many are waiting to find out if compensation will become a reality before stepping forward and disclosing part of their past they've shut out, she said.

Perdue issued a statement supporting the compensation proposal and said she looks forward to reviewing the full report from the task force. After doing so, she’ll make her final recommendations to state legislators, who will ultimately decide whether to pay people who were sterilized by the state.

Still, the compensation task force recommendations are a significant step forward, Fuller Cooper said, adding that every step is a step in the right direction. She said she'll be relieved when the legislature takes up the issue.

"We have completed one phase of bringing justice closer to the victims," she told CNN, “and we hope to build more support for the Task Force's efforts as we move toward the final phase.”


Filed under: Disabilities • Discrimination • Health • History • How we live
soundoff (394 Responses)
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  4. E. Byrnes

    Clearly this merits deep bioethical discussion, and I'm opposed to forced sterilizations, as is the issue here. However, I think we need to take stock of the situation in this country and assess our genetic wealth, as well as possible causes for its dwindling value, etc.

    The wish the movie Idiocracy wasn't such an apt augury of the future for unmitigated welfare states. We need to take care of those in need, the sick, etc; this is an ethical imperative, but we needn't avoid all discussions of reproductive policy. This is especially so considering the reality that everyone is taking a huge ethical leap when they create life.

    Reproduction is not to be taken lightly, whether it's in the creation or prevention of new life.

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  6. jeff

    Too bad they couldn't have had this program and used it on Obama's father... or how about we keep the program going by sterilizing all illegal immigrants? Or any convicted and confessed felon who mudered someone. Or Rapists. That would be just fine. But, yep, it's a bummer they didn't have this program in Hawaii for Obama's dad.

    March 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe

    They deserve much more than $50,000.

    March 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
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    February 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Keith

    Several Nobel prize winners grew up extramely poor ... would you sterile them? Some of the best mathmaticians in the world are autistic ... would you sterilize them? Would you destroy the worlds greatest minds for an inhuman policy?

    January 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Keith

    This is not enough money. It should be millions per person!

    January 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Millions per person? That's MY tax money you are happily giving away. I did not sterilize anyone.

      That's the problem with reparations. Those that had no involvement are made to pay. Should those harmed be compensation in some way? Probably. But who should pay? And how much? It's a very difficult question.

      January 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
      • Tracy

        you might not of done it but it was your state, your government and your elected (by the people of the state you live in and possibly even you voted for them) did do this. if the state is to represent the citizens then the citizens should be responsible for the actions of the state right as they voted those members in.

        March 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. pablo

    Over population and scarcity of resources on this planet is a major cause of most of the ills of humanity. It leads to famine and war. Unrestrained bearing of children by the poor and uneducated only add to the problem but since it is not politically correct to discuss this issue, it is not talked about. Take the octomom for example, she already had 6 kids she couldn't support then had 8 more. Other people have to foot the bill. Many of these people are unfit parents who starve and torture their own children. You have to be licensed to drive a car or cut hair but any moron can bring a child into the world.

    January 20, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      The ability to reproduce is not tied to ones wealth ... it is a human right! You propose that only rich people should have rights and what you propose is open discrimination and hate!

      January 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
      • pthelms

        It is certainly not a human right, let alone a right at all. It is a privliage born of strength. The ancient Spartans used eugenics to their great benefit, and their program of exposure was much more cruel than simple sterilization. Food shortages, stronger infectious diseases produced by widespread medical care, and the lack of intense suffering through war and calamity have only caused the world to buckle under a growing and weakening population, as well as an aging one.

        February 6, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      I propose that the children are starved and tortured not by actions of the parents ... but by actions of the society. I grew up poor was tortured ... but not by my parents but by the society. Open government beatings .... my parents pleaded with the government to stop the beatings and nothing happened. You are blaming the low income for actions of the society. Meanwhile we spend billions to protect the rights of the powerful corporations .... it is not the powerful corporations that need protection. You propose that the poor are not paying taxes ... however minimum tax is 7.5 (actually like 15 %)percent plus sales tax of 5 to 10 % and inadditon added other taxes to phone and electricity. These are taxes taken from people that can not afford food and shelter ... effectively taxation that causes starvation. The population of the US is increasing because of immigration and the immigrates having children. Most Americans are being reasonable and you are porposing a problem that is very limited and has almost no effect. For this misguided efforts you are proposing inhuman acts of violence...... look at facts not statements of hate!

      January 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessie

      you are so right! do many children in the foster care system because unfit people breed and it has nothing to do with wealth cause some rich people should not breed aka paris hilton. People should be required to pass a test and if not givin one chance to prove themsleves worthy of of change by taking a class and a second chance to pass the test if not out come your overys or nuts!

      January 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jimbo

        I guess since you can't spell "ovaries" you are the next on the list for a hysterectomy.

        March 19, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      People like YOU are wanting to take away the right a woman has to HER body. I wouldn't be surprised if you were on the bandwagon of stripping a woman of all her rights so that the government could own her body and control how many children she has. I swear. With the mentality that the majority holds – I won't have much say with what I do to my body for much longer.

      January 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  16. JC3

    They should let them live state tax free indefinitely. That way their income only goes up slightly and they may or may not lose the benefits, it gives incentive to work, and North Carolina has to forego any financial benefit it derives from them for the rest of their lives, just as they permanently lost their choice of whether or not they could reproduce.

    January 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Joseph

    For those who can't seem to understand the significance to the people who were sterilized, I would point out that if you kill someone before they have children, you have erased them from the human race, but you have also erased all of their descendants. Sterilizing them does the latter, and genetically speaking, they may as well never have existed. And you may as well have executed their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren...

    January 17, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  18. BoB

    Why is there no mention on how much these procedures probally saved the state. The few people I saw being interviewed didnt look like they should have reproduced anyway.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Joseph

      Wow. Seriously? Naw, you can't be serious. That's like asking why people don't praise serial "mercy killers" for saving money for hospitals. Or I could go further. Back to the Third Reich.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • skpfrmdc

      That kind of statement qualifies YOU as one of them.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      I hope you didn't reproduce! you probably belong in the 17th Century with that kind of backward thinking BoB

      January 21, 2012 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
      • Jessie

        nope you just admits to the truth

        January 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Angela Ezponda

    In Los Angeles, doctors at Martin Luther King hospital sterilized poor, non-English-speaking Latinas who had gone there to deliver their babies.These women were married and their husbands did not know or agree to this procedure. There was a big trial against the hospital at the Los Angeles Superior Court in late 1976. One of the doctors who performed these surgeries testified that 'they couldn't afford the ones they already have' as a reason to not let them have anymore. Apparently the story didn't register a blip in the national consciousness, but for those of us who attended the trial, it was a life-changing experience. And yes, all you haters: Bring it own!

    January 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mo

      I'm truly sorry for that, but it only goes to show who has always put themselves first and chose actions of detriment toward others. History has already pinpointed the corporates, yet they continue to operate.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Nic

    You can sterilize me for 50k and I won't even cry about it. Heck you can even take one testi for a souvenir if you want.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay do

      Playing tough not crying about being sterilized. Cause you believe you are worth nothing0000
      you can keep your remark, it does not impress or intimidate anyone to feel bad for
      receiving a symbolic amount for "punitive suffering".
      Because the damage is irreparable for them... not for your??? who asked you?

      January 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
      • June

        Some of these procedures can be reversed actually.

        January 17, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • skpfrmdc

      Do it yourself and save the state the money. Sounds like a good idea even without the payment.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  21. KeninTexas

    They said "The task force noted the need to ensure that the $50,000 payment won't result in victims losing eligibility for other benefits they might already be receiving." ,,, Oh yes, we don't want to interfer with their welfare checks do we? When it gets down to it, it's all about the money.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tankman

      Thanks, I did not even think of that. 50K does blow the SSI limit of 2K. These people have to be thankful that the government stop putting people in state hospitals for life, and now gives them money to have food , a roof, and cable tv, they live better then a lot better then some people outside the USA, btw if these people still lockup in a hospital, guess what? they would not be able to have kids in the first place...

      January 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawaii

      Most of these folks are NOT on welfare. Even if they are on SSI because of a disability, they were given a procedure they had no idea what it was about. To generalize and say it's the money shows how stupid and an azz you are. How can you imagine the suffering and 'what's wrong with me' they prob have gone in their mind thru the years? Your heartless comment shows your slow intelligence.

      January 16, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • Tankman

        It is clear that these two are in SSI, I am not saying that eugenics was a good thing. There are more proactive things that can be done, like spending more money in birth control programs. But I bet you think that is a bad thing also

        January 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  22. dc

    From the other side of the argument, is Eugenics that bad of an idea? Preventing retards /mentally feeble from having offspring who will also be feeble minded/retarded and will end up being be a burden on the system The poor who were sterilized would prob not be able to support their children anyway and it would then be a burden on their country/ state/welfare.
    There are more people on food stamps in the U.S. than all of Canada... how embarrassing.

    It is unfair and horrible but essentially there should be some rules in place deciding who/how many children we can have. The world is already on the path to being over populated, maybe not in our generation. However as sad as it is, perhaps there was/is some validity in Eugenics. Survival of the fittest, sped up a bit. The world doesnt need more parents who are poor dumb and cant support their children.

    January 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • dc

      I am against their treatment of blacks aboriginals, and even being poor and being sterilized is not a legit reason because status and wealth can change quite quickly, if the being is smart enough to pursue correct paths. However... preventing burdens on the system from producing more burdens on the system may not be a bad idea....

      January 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mo

      No matter how rational the thoughts sound, there is neither a right or responsibility for another person to decide who should be able to reproduce. But is that the true issue, I think not the true issues was not for the benefit of the unwilling victim, but the development of the science and then the usage of it later.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bek

      The terminology you choose leads me to believe that you are more than out of the loop in regards to cognitive and developmental disabilities. First off, what disorders would fall under the terms you used in 2012? Should I be snipped because I have autism? Should my child be snipped because he has autism? What about the person who is completely non-verbal? Are they "retards" because they don't speak and therefore there couldn't possibly be anything of value going on in their minds? The criteria in determining cognitive and developmental disabilities and naming them has changed so much over the years, as has some public opinion, though there still are plenty of ignorant/stupid people who look at anyone who isn't cognitively equal to some idea of perfection as though they are not people but rather animals who cannot make decisions, lead a meaningful life, contribute to society, and should be sterilized the same way a dog or cat are neutered. These outdated and idiotic beliefs are why laws that take away the rights and abilities of individuals cannot be upheld. There is too much room for error and discrimination and abuse.

      Also, not all people who you would describe as "retards" or "feeble minded" are reliant on welfare programs and should financial buoyancy – one of the most volatile variables there is- be an indicator as to whether a person should be permitted to procreate in their lifetime? Sure, tie the tubes, pinch off the vas deferens in an adolescent or teenager, based on their potential at financial solvency in their future. Most ramen noodle eating recent college grads would have to be snipped under such a resolution.

      Many advances in all areas of life, art, and industry would have never occurred had it not been for people labeled "retards" or "feeble minded" in their lifetime. Before you suggest that eugenics may not be a bad thing, considering people who fall under these outdated labels and their potential need for lifelong support or eventual welfare programs, make sure you look at all of the people that fall under those labels. There are some amazing people in this world, that change the world as we know it- be it in grand style or just one on one communication that shares a different perspective. Don't discount us because you can't be bothered to see us as whole people.

      January 23, 2012 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  23. LW

    I understand reparations for living victims. What I am against is reparations for those who were not victimized themselves. That is why I am 100% against reparations for slavery. It was done away with so long ago that there are no living victims.

    January 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawaii

      True, my great grandparents are no longer alive but they were slaves. My grandmom was raped by the one who owned her and so was my other grandmother on my mom's side. To say they are gone is a slap in the face. WE as their decendants are here now. It still hurts. A lot.

      January 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
      • NHWoman

        I believe we should have paid reparations to the families of slaves but it should have been done a long time ago. To say that the families suffered nothing would be wrong. White people inherited things from their parents; generally some kind of property but at least a family name and a united set of parents and at least an education. So they were already advantaged. They had some type of legacy while African Americans often had nothing but a legacy of shame. They did not own land to call home let alone to rent, sell, or use to make a living on. They could not read or write to navigate through this new "free" society. They did not have a familial home to return to for support if things were tough.

        January 17, 2012 at 5:20 am | Report abuse |
      • LW

        Many white people were discriminated against back in the day. My ancestors immigrated here from Ireland and Germany, the Irish suffered horribly as well. None of my ancestors owned slaves. My tax dollars are better spent elsewhere. I am sorry for what happened long ago but it’s over. I’m sick of the mentality of “the world owes me…” If people would take responsibility for themselves rather than expect handouts for ills that happened to people who are no longer alive we would all get along much better. The ones who should have gotten something are no longer here.

        January 17, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  24. Lost

    RACISM IS THE BEAST.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  25. Marquise

    Those who submitted names and who performed the procedures should be identified and forced to compensate these victims for their loss. How dare they act like God and determine who should procreate. The poor, downtrodden, the outcast and the despised are always the victims of scorn. Oh, America not so beautiful!

    January 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  26. gwats

    I bet the vast majority of those who were sterilized were poor and Black,

    January 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • J House

      If the individuals were poor and black I am certain they would not be receiving any type of compensation for the travesty that has behest them.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
    • DanoRoo

      Yep, just what the world needs. MORE poor and MORE blacks.

      January 16, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawaii

      Not true Gwats. As you can see in the video above, the gentleman is not black. The sterialization was across the board. Those poor souls who didn't fit into 'normal' society. How dare you say it's about race. Your low intelligence is showing. You need to read and wake up to reality. It's people like you that keep racism going. You poor pathetic ignorant buffoon.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
      • Mo

        Look, until something affects a person directly some of these super superior individuals don't realize it boils down to who has the means and the power. That means who has the money to enforce their will. And for LW I'm sick of hearing my people came here from this country that country, that's fine, but another group did not they where kidnapped, raped, murdered, and still to this day abused and ambushed daily, I highly doubt you are.

        January 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  27. 12mchen

    If this was forced sterilization, I think this is too little too late. It is a nice gesture I guess, but you took away part of a person's life. One of the main objectives of being alive is to procreate. VERY SAD that this happened. I don't think any amount of money could make this okay or go away. OR wash away the shame. The best you could hope for is to start educational programs about this and try to make sure that sort of thing never happens again.

    January 15, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      Educational programs are nice but totally insufficient to cover the loss to those victims, as is the lousy $50,000 being considered. I think they all should be able to sue and win millions. THAT would be more justice for them than education for everyone else. This whole education thing looks to me like the State simply trying to get out of paying for it's incredible civil rights violations. But then again it is the south.

      January 16, 2012 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  28. Debba

    How very sad. Steralizing healthy people for no reason? There is something about the south and some of the weird things they are into. Like Nascar. Watching people drive around in a circle for hours, Beauty pagents for toddlers & little girls. Some of the churches are super strange having snakes & screaming & all that crazy stuff. Slavery back in the day. You get the idea.

    January 15, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • NHWoman

      Hate to disabuse you of your bias against the South, but this happened all over the country. In NH we sterilized retarded children and orphans; in Vermont they sterilized Native American teenagers, almost to the obliteration of the tribes.

      January 15, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • cbollman

      You are ignorant maybe if you got out of your home state and didn't believe everything you have seen on t.v you would actually know what the southern states are about. But once again you fit the stereotype of a yankee a no good illiterate yankee. If the south had won the civil war these atrocities would have never of happened we don't believe in the big government that has regulated these sterilizations and that is still regulating these sterilizations under a different shot.
      Many of you would be curious to know what spermicides are pattended under vaccines and flu shots. wake up people this is happening to a majority of the country who are getting there yearly flu shots and vaccinations. Stop bickering saying, well its there fault for being illiterate or being black this has nothing to do with the skin tone or intelligence. These sterilizations were just a test for a more massive deployment that we are now seeing.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  29. AG

    "Three generations of imbeciles is enough" he must have been talking about congress, in which case I agree. Let's vote them out.

    January 14, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
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