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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 ?
The Market Research Future report provides a wide segmental analysis of the sterilized packaging market based on material and type.
By January 2017, 720 bucks had been sterilized, and it's believed this is 92 percent of all bucks living there.
He advised, any used instruments including brushes, combs, scissors, razors have to be sterilized between clients.
Unlike most aseptic packaging, which must be assembled and sterilized in the forming and filling machine, the Ecolean Aseptic Air packaging arrives preformed, sterilized and hermetically sealed from Ecolean's converting factories.
Therefore, this investigation was undertaken to determine the effect of sterilized soil versus non-sterilized soil in combination with presence and absence of tomato shoots and roots separately on the survival of EPN (Steinernema asiaticum, S.
Mercuric Chloride and Ethanol: Seeds of both cultivars were sterilized by stirring in 0.1 % (w/v) solution of mercuric acid (HgCl2) for 10 min and washed subsequently three times with sterile distilled water, followed by one min soaking in 90% ethanol.
" We direct that the dogs which are required to be sterilized or vaccinated, the procedure shall be carried out in accordance with the Act and rules and no organisation shall create any kind of obstacle or impediment in the same.
In this regard, storage temperature of 22 C[degrees] compared to that of 7 C[degrees] (with corresponding means of 5.691 and 3.924, P<0.01, P<0.01) and using sterilized water compared to non-sterilized tap water (with corresponding means of5.308 and 4.307, P<0.01, P<0.05) were more effective in the growth of the bacteria.
Sterilized tools must first be cleaned and submerged in antiseptic solutions then sterilized in an autoclave or a Food and Drug Administration-registered dry heat sterilizer, not an UV box.
The number of illegally sterilized people is estimated to be as high as several thousand.
Studies of free radicals in sterilized drugs [1-5], cells [8], and tissues [7] have been carried out before.