April 24, 2024


 One hundred years ago, back in 1907, the American state of Indiana passed the world’s first compulsory sterilisation law. In 1909 the law was suspended and was later declared unconstitutional. But eugenics enthusiasts persisted and a new law was passed in 1927 which remained on the books until 1974. About 2,500 people from Indiana were sterilised in an attempt to improve the gene pool. Indiana was the first of 30 states which, all told, authorised about 65,000 sterilisations. The Nazi policy of compulsory sterilisation proudly cited US precedents. (See accompanying 1936 propaganda poster, "we are not alone" which displays the flags of countries which had already legalised sterilisation or were about to. The Stars and Stripes is in the top left-hand corner.)

Earlier this month Indiana formally expressed its regret for this misguided policy. An historic marker was unveiled opposite the Statehouse to commemorate the sterilisation of "imbeciles" and paupers. Present was Jamie Renae Coleman, a woman who was sterilised in 1971. Two years later she sued her mother, her doctor and the authorising judge. It was an historic case which went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the outcome was not a vindication of her plea. Instead it became the leading Supreme Court decision on judicial immunity.

In a , Apr 13


About half of the 300 deaths of infants under 12 months in Belgium are involuntary euthanasia, according to a study by Veerle Provoost, of the University of Ghent. Dr Provoost examined the medical files and found that in about 150 cases the baby’s life had been actively terminated. The cause of death varied. In most cases, treatment for a sick infant was withdrawn or it was terminally sedated. In 9% of cases, products were explicitly administered to end the baby’s life. In 84% of cases, the decision to terminate was taken after consultation with parents. Most of the babies were said to have no chance of survival or little hope of an acceptable quality of life.