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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 ?
But apparently Staten Island politicians believed that sterilizing every buck on the island would work.
Sterilizing mosquitoes may seem like a small step towards saving lives, but the effects it will have on healthcare could be life-changing for the many who view mosquitoes as not just an inconvenience, but an assassin.
Earlier, a person who had 'parata' at the said eatery had circulated the incident in social media claiming that it was a sterilizing chemical, following which several violent incidents took place in the area.
The results showed that 5% n-Hexane in combination with 2% of H2O2 are the best sterilizing agents for both cultivars when compared to the efficacy of other chemicals.
According to Schafers, there are a lot of capital expenditures related to sterilizing components, such as maintaining cleanrooms, acquiring the proper washing machines, and then assessing the effectiveness of your sterilization through validations.
This 150-L laboratory autoclave has a stainless steel, 500-mm diameter sterilizing chamber accessed via a wide door opening that allows easy loading, even of heavy loads from a cart.
Among the studied conditions, the most optimal one for sterilizing bismuth subgallate is 170[degrees]C, based on EPR measurements.
They cover the steam and dry heat sterilization of biomaterials and medical devices, principles and standards of sterilizing healthcare products by ionizing radiation, the ethylene oxide sterilization of healthcare products, non-traditional sterilization techniques for biomaterials and medical devices, sterilizing and decontaminating surfaces by plasma discharges, sterilization techniques for polymers, sterilizing drug-device products and tissue allografts by ionizing radiation, antimicrobial coatings for self-sterilization, prions and endotoxins: reprocessing strategies for reusable medical devices, and future trends.
Sterilizing the outside of sealed envelopes did not ensure that the letter inside was safe.
Whyard said there are several reasons why sterilizing insects using biotechnology is a good choice for controlling pest populations, including the fact it is environmentally friendly.