Sterilization of Defective, Aim
Virginia to Resume Enforcement of Law to Check Feeble-Mindedness.
By Russell Briney.
Staff-Correspondent of the Courier-Journal
Richmond, Va., May 26. - Enforcement of the Virginia statute authorizing the sterilization of mental defectives will, in view of the United States Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the law, be resumed at once. Frank [can't read] State Commissioner of Public Welfare, told the Courier-Journal today.
He explained that after the measure was enacted in 1924, only a few operations in accordance with its provisions had been performed before the suit attacking its constitutionality was filed. During the long pendency of this action, which was appealed from a Circuit Court in the State Supreme Court and finally in the Federal tribunal at Washington, the Department of Public Welfare has not attempted to enforce the statute.
Basis is Conservative.
"However," he continued, "we will put it into effect again immediately. We intend to undertake the enforcement on a very conservative basis, using the utmost care to safeguard the rights of all concerned and to adhere painstakingly to the provisions of the law."
Mr. Bane[?] said that the Virginia law, which was sponsored, at the time of its adoption, by the State Department of Public Welfare, and agency like the Board of Charities and Correction in Kentucky, is more or less similar to the sterilization statutes prevailing in about a dozen Sates. The Virginia law, he added, has been the subject of many inquiries from lawmakers, sociologists andsocial workers elsewhere - particularly in the last few weeks, the Supreme Court decision having been handed down May 2.
The decision was rendered in the case of Carrie Buck, a 21-year-old inmate of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, the unmarried mother of a feeble-minded child and the daughter herself of a feeble-minded mother, also an inmate of the colony. The suit in the Buck woman's behalf alleged that the sterilization law deprived her of due legal [unreadable] and protection, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and was welcomed as a test case by the Virginia officials responsible for the enforcement of the statute, Commissioner Bane[?] said.
Hailed Throughout Country.
The Supreme Court decision, written by Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, has been hailed not only in Virginia but throughout the country as of major interest and importance, Justice Holmes declaring that "it is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."
The Virginia statute, according to statements in its preamble, is based on the following conclusions:
That "both the health of the individual patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization to mental defectives under careful safeguard and by competent and conscientious authority."
That "such sterilization may be effected in males by the operation of vasectomy and in females by the operation of salpingectomy, both of which said operations may be performed without serious pain or substantial danger to the life of the patient."
That "the Commonwealth has in custodial care and is supporting in various State institutions many defective persons, who if now discharged or paroled would likely become by the propagation of their kind a menace to society, but who if incapable of procreating might be discharged or paroled and become self-supporting with benefit both to themselves and to society."
That "[obscured] has demonstrated that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity[?], idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime."
Problem Is Big One.
The problem of the perpetration of imbecility and unfitness by the birth of children to feeble-minded parents is one that is giving sociologists serious concern. Commissioner Bane[?] pointed out, particularly in view of the already large population of asylums and prisons.
"I am not an alarmist on the subject," he said, "but it is well to bear in mind that in Virginia, for instance, there is a total of [unreadable] persons in institutions for the care of the feeble-minded and insane - not an extraordinary number in comparison with the total in other States - whereas the total capacity of all our other hospitals, public and private alike, is about 2,000 beds. In other words, it is necessary to provide special facilities for the care of twice as many sufferers from mental ills and deficiencies as for victims of other forms of disease and infirmity. In the face of this problem, the Virginia sterilization law aims to strike at those mental defects which are hereditary and incurable and thus to check as far as possible any further growth of that part of the population, which must constantly be in one way or another, a charge upon the State."
The State Board of Public Welfare does not regard the law as in any sense offering a panacea, the Commissioner added, for a statute the enforcement of which may by [illegible] fashion. Nevertheless, he declared there are undoubtedly many cases in which its provisions may be carried into effect at great saving of future suffering and of cost and anger to the State.
The statute provides:
That whenever the Superintendent of the Western State Hospital or of the Eastern State Hospital or of the Southwestern State Hospital, or of the Central State Hospital, or of the State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, shall be of the opinion that it is for the best interests of the patients and for society that any inmate of the institution under his care should be sexually sterilized, such superintendent is hereby authorized to perform, or cause to be performed by [illegible] physician or surgeon, the operation of sterilization on any such patient confined in such institution afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy, provided that such superintendent shall have first complied with the requirements of this act.
These requirements stipulate that the superintendent shall first present to the special board of directors of his hospital or colony an affidavit stating the case and asking for an order authorizing the operation. A copy of the superintendent's petition must also be served upon the inmate and upon the inmate's legal guardian and at least thirty days' notice must be given the inmate and the guardian as to when and where the board of directors proposes to act upon the superintendent's request. If the inmate should have no guardian, the superintendent is required to call upon the Circuit Court to appoint one to defend the rights and interests of the inmate. If the inmate is an infant and should have or both parents living, the parent or parents must be given the same notice as the guardian.
Provision is made for a hearing to be conducted by the special board of directors of the institution concerned. A record of all evidence, oral and otherwise, taken at such hearings must be preserved. After the hearing around which many safeguards for the benefit of the inmate are thrown, the board may either deny or grant the superintendent's petition. In case the board grants the request and orders the operation the superintendent must wait at least thirty additional days before performing it or having it performed.
Meanwhile, an appeal may be filed in the Circuit Court in the inmate's behalf, and the superintendent is in this event, required to file with the clerk of the court all the papers and evidence bearing on the case. If the Circuit Court should uphold the board's order the inmate's legal representative would have an additional thirty days in which to carry the case to the State Supreme Court. The law stipulates that the pendency of appeals, both to the Circuit Court and to the Supreme Court, shall constitute a stay of proceedings as far as the operation is concerned. If the operation is performed in accordance with this act those participating are exempted from any civil or criminal liability thereby.
While officials here regard the [illegible] of the policy to be pursued in carrying out the provisions of the [illegible] evidence. It is said that the operation [illegible] is to be [illegible] much more frequently in the cases of women than of men. It is expected that the law will be taken advantage of largely in instances in which it is the very inability of the inmate to restrain the reproductive instinct which makes confinement imperative. Such instances exist, it is claimed, more often among women patients than among men, for, in the very nature of things, the woman commonly is able to indulge herself far more often than would a man of corresponding type. The fact that, in any community in which she may be at large, she usually attracts and is surrounded by a circle of vicious men is regarded as making her a greater menace to the community and to herself than a male defective with his comparatively restricted opportunities.
"It is pointed that the law is not intended as offering a form of punishment for crimes against women. It could not be employed in this way unless the offender should be remitted to an insane hospital or feeble-minded colony, instead of being sentenced to a prison term or to death.