[12/6/16] Hundreds of Californians who were forcibly sterilized based on eugenics laws in the last century might still be alive and deserve an apology and financial reparations, a new study concludes.
In a Sacramento government office, historian and lead author Alexandra Minna Stern stumbled across a filing cabinet containing about 20,000 recommendations for eugenics-motivated sterilizations dating from 1919 through 1952.
Stern, a professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and her colleagues used the documents and actuarial tables to calculate that as many as 831 men, women and children slated for sterilization could still be alive and would be on average almost 88 years old.
Many of the typewritten and signed sterilization recommendations were for children, the youngest 7 years old, Stern said in a phone interview.
One was for Rose Zaballos. Today she would be 93. But she died in 1939, when she was just 16, on the operating table at the Sonoma State Home during surgery to prevent her from conceiving, according to her niece, Barbara Swarr of Hayward, California. In a phone interview, Swarr described her aunt as “mentally retarded.”
California had the right to sterilize Rose Zaballos under a 1909 state law authorizing reproductive surgery on patients committed to homes or hospitals and judged to have a “mental disease which may have been inherited” and was “likely to be transmitted to descendants,” Stern’s team writes in the American Journal of Public Health.
The California statute provided the legal framework for the most active sterilization program in the U.S., the study says. The law remained on the books until 1979.
“This was one of these dramatic and significant episodes in the state’s history that shouldn’t be forgotten,” Stern said. “Each of these 20,000 people was their own individual, with their own life story, loves, passions.
“They are people who should have been treated with dignity,” she said.