No, it couldn’t happen in America, not in the 20th century. No way!
Oh, but forced sterilization did happen, encouraged by state governments, doctors and social workers. The programs were sometimes supported by pharmacy manufacturers and were based on lousy research by people who weren’t geneticists. The political ramifications bear close attention.
Sterilization programs did happen and not just in one place or during a remote time long ago. Utah, where researching ancestry is an ardent pursuit, was sterilizing people without their consent as recently as 1963. I’m relieved to note that my home state — Maryland — never passed a compulsory sterilization law. However, sterilizations without consent still occurred.
If you can stomach it, read Against Their Will to learn about the awful reality of North Carolina’s 20th century sterilization program which curtailed forever the capacity to reproduce for thousands of people without their consent. When was this North Carolina law finally struck down? In 2003!
Eugenics programs existed in many states. More than 60,000 Americans were sterilized without their consent, part of the eugenics fad of the 1920s that found its way into the rhetoric and practices of Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany and the United States of America were not the only nations engaging in compulsory sterilization — two provinces in Canada followed the US lead in this practice of weeding the gene pool.
North Carolina considered setting up the first Department of Heredity, leading to program where agencies across the nation would track family roots and decide who should or could reproduce. That didn’t happen.
Heroic journalism by the Winston-Salem Journal reporters Kevin Begos, Danielle Deaver, John Railey and Scott Sexton brought this repulsive episode to light. The series led to the North Carolina governor issuing an apology to the involuntary participants in the program. The North Carolina legislature was the first in the U.S. A. to consider compensation to victims of eugenics or involuntary sterilization.