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A medical procedure where the reproductive organs are removed or rendered ineffective.

Legally mandated sterilization of criminals, or other members of society deemed "socially undesirable," has for some time been considered a stain on the history of U.S. law. The practice, also known as eugenics, originated early in the twentieth century. In 1914, a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law was published by Harry Laughlin at the Eugenics Records Office. Laughlin proposed the sterilization of "socially inadequate" persons, which translated as anyone "maintained wholly or in part by public expense." This would include the "feebleminded, insane, blind, deaf, orphans, and the homeless." At the time the model law was published, 12 states had enacted sterilization laws. Such laws were seen to benefit society since they presumably reduced the burden on taxpayers of maintaining state-run facilities. Eventually, these laws were challenged in court.

In Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), oliver wendell holmes jr. wrote the infamous opinion that upheld the constitutionality of a Virginia sterilization law, fueling subsequent legislative efforts to enact additional sterilization laws. By 1930, 30 states and Puerto Rico had passed laws mandating sterilization for many criminal or moral offenses. Nearly all of the states with such laws imposed mandatory sterilization of mentally defective citizens. Nineteen states required sterilization for parents of children likely to experience various disorders. Six states encouraged sterilization for individuals whose children might be "socially inadequate."

Finally, the Supreme Court struck down an Oklahoma law mandating involuntary sterilization for repeat criminals in Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 62 S. Ct. 1110, 86 L. Ed. 1655 (1942). Justice william o. douglas's opinion broadly defined the right to privacy to include the right to procreate, and concluded that the government's power to sterilize interfered with an individual's basic liberties.

By mid-century, legal attitudes had changed, and many state sterilization laws were held to be unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment prohibiting Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Further readings

Carlson, Elof Axel. 2001. The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Kevles, Daniel J. 1985. In the Name of Eugenics. New York: Knopf.

Smith, J. David, and K. Ray Nelson. 1999. The Sterilization of Carrie Buck. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon Press.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries use the facilities as an essential component of the manufacturing process for products when heat sterilisation methods can be damaging.
Understanding an appropriate sterilisation technique for POSS-PCU and POSS-PCL is crucial for translation to clinical practice.
Since 1951, it has been hypothesised that sterilisation might increase a woman's risk of abnormal uterine bleeding (post tubal ligation syndrome--risk of heavy bleeding and intermenstrual bleeding).
The company offers technical and regulatory consulting services, contract laboratory services and contract sterilisation out of its two locations, in Rush, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania.
The heat sterilization/high-temperature sterilisation segment is expected to account for the largest share of the global sterilization equipment market in 2015.
Conclusions: Etant donne l'importante proportion de femmes qui se soumettent a la sterilisation, le nombre potentiel de celles qui eprouvent un regret est considerable.
Sterilisation as a form of contraception is perfectly acceptable if it is an informed choice of a woman or a man who is certain their child-producing years are over.
According to the circular, sterilisation procedures can only be performed for medical reasons.
Average waiting time post delivery for the sterilisation procedure was 13.5 hours in the open group and 17.7 hours in the laparoscopic group (Table 3).
3 November 2014 - US sterilisation and ionisation solutions provider Sterigenics International LLC has taken over Italy's gamma sterilisation company Gammarad Italia SpA, the buyer announced in a statement, without revealing the value of the deal.
Steribeam, a company that manufactures non-invasive sterilisation systems with intense Pulsed UV or El Fields for production and research and development tasks, has announced that six logs sterilisation of B pumilus spores with a few UV pulses on the standard equipment, leads to the possibility for in-line sterilisation of filled infusion bags and syringes, it was reported yesterday.
M2 EQUITYBITES-May 16, 2014-Synergy Health reveals deal for Italian sterilisation services group Bioster