ELSIcon2022 • Networking Session • Late-breaking Abstracts • June 1, 2022
James Tabery, Nicole Novak, Lida Sarafraz, Aubrey Mansfield
Eugenicists in America, at the beginning of the twentieth century, feared that the “unfit” were outbreeding the “fit” and promoted interventions like involuntary sterilization as a solution to the perceived problem. Utah had a particularly aggressive eugenic sterilization program. It was hailed by eugenicists for sterilizing such a large proportion of its population. It also lasted well into the 1970s, long after the science of human genetics no longer supported the idea that there were simple genes for criminality or epilepsy which could be eradicated with sterilizations. We provide a demographic analysis of the victims of the state-sanctioned sterilization program in Utah, as well as an estimate of the number of survivors. At least 830 men, women, and children (modal age of 15-19, 53.6% female) were sterilized in Utah institutions under a program that was launched in 1925, peaked in the 1940s, and concluded in the 1970s. A life table analysis predicts 57 survivors (38 women, 19 men) still alive in 2022, with an average age of 77. A number of states have taken steps to begin reckoning with their sterilization history. Several governors and legislatures apologized to the victims in their states. North Carolina, Virginia, and California created programs designed to compensate sterilization survivors. Utah, on the other hand, lacks even an official acknowledgement of this shameful history. Given the advanced age of the estimated survivors in Utah, time is running out for a reconciliation that can be experienced by those who were most harmed by the practice.