Enforced sterilisation

J.J. AMY, Dept. of

Gynaecology, Andrology and Obstetrics, Academisch Ziekenhuis, Vrije

Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.


certain circumstances one can envision that the right to reproduce should not

be unlimited.  Such limitation may for

instance apply to carriers of serious inheritable diseases or mentally retarded

people.  But also harsh social

conditions may require to restrict population growth in a given community.  The difficulty consists in defining the

legally and ethically acceptable means of implementing such limitations.  The government may stipulate that people

should not have more than a certain number of children.  For the sake of the general interest, health

workers may participate in the implementation of such a policy, in particular

by providing information, but should never take any part in coercive

contraceptive or sterilisation practices.

            Between 1935 and 1976, more than 60

000 people were submitted in Sweden to enforced sterilisation for behavioural

problems, or eugenic or economic reasons. 

In Pennsylvania, one had started with sterilising people against their

will in 1904; exactly forty years later coercive sterilisation had become legal

in no less than 30 American states.  It

is estimated that more than 60 000 people underwent an enforced sterilisation

in the USA between 1930 and 1960.  These

procedures were also carried out for equally unfounded indications in Denmark

(from 1929 onwards), Finland (1939), France, Norway (1934), Switzerland (1925),

and Japan.  Five months before the nazis

took power, a law was promulgated in Germany that recommended that certain

people be sterilised, on the same grounds as in Sweden and the USA.  It is thought that some 360 000 people were

sterilised in Germany, in accordance with that law, between 1933 and 1945.  The aforementioned facts illustrate that

authoritarian patterns of thought were prevailing during the first half of the

20th century in many more countries than those under fascist rule.


recently long-acting contraception (e.g. Norplant®), albeit reversible and less

aggressive than sterilisation, has been used in a legal but highly questionable

social context in the USA.  It is

extremely distressing to learn that certain people (e.g. gypsies) living in

Eastern European countries should still be submitted to coercive sterilisation

practices.  This is clearly a case of

infringement on basic human rights.

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