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A study from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Uiversity of Bournemouth reveal that forced sterilisation didn’t stop after WWII. Sweden, for example, abolished its law only in 1976. Eugenics was a very popular ideology in the beginning of the 20th century and not only in autocratic regimes such as Germany or Japan. Winston Churchill, a supporter of sterilisation, put it this way: ‘A simple surgical operation so the inferior could be permitted freely in the world without causing much inconvenience to others’. Thirteen countries in total had sterilisation laws and it took decades after World War II for them all to abolish them. Deciding who can reproduce or not remains a very actual topic, for politicians as well as the health sector. The authors stress that attention must be given to conveying ethical values, such as basic human rights and their transgressions, during the training of health personnel and social workers.
Prof. em. Jean-Jacques Amy, from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), and Prof. Sam Rowlands, from the University of Bournemouth (UK), highlight in two articles that non-consensual sterilisation became part of the legal system in 13 countries during the first decades of the 20th century. Despite what one might expect, those countries were mostly democratic and included the ostensibly advanced Nordic countries. The countries with sterilisation laws, mentioned in chronological order, were the USA, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Mexico, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, and Austria.
The two articles published in April and June 2018 in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care are, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, the first to analyse the continuum of events in all 13 countries which enforced compulsory sterilisation policies before AND after the Second World War. The articles stress how frighteningly similar the eugenics ideologies and the sterilisation Acts were in the USA and Hitler’s Germany.
Forced sterilisation is strongly associated with eugenics. This doctrine, and later associated social movement, aimed to reduce the number of individuals who were less endowed genetically and, eventually, those considered to be a burden to society.
After the Second World War, sterilisations under duress were put to an end in Germany and Austria. But the other countries or regions amended or repealed their sterilisation laws only decades later. Among the latter countries, the greatest number of compulsory sterilisations took place in Sweden. Authorities in most countries only moved to right these historic injustices by means of recognition, acknowledgement, apologies and/or financial redress after the victims went public with their stories. Victims in Japan only went public as late as January and February 2018.
The findings are of particular interest for clinicians and policymakers; the authors stress that attention must be given to conveying ethical values during the training of health personnel and social workers. This should include participative discussions of topics such as basic human rights and their transgressions, informed consent vs. coercion, and public health provision in democratic vs. totalitarian regimes.
Prof. dr.em. Jean-Jacques Amy
Tel - 02 537 60 15.