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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.

References in periodicals archive ?
For products that cannot withstand terminal sterilization, Cousins explains that aseptic processing fills "the need to ensure the product is filled in a manner where there is a minimal chance for contamination by microbes, either from contacting the product contact surfaces (i.
Latest advances in sterilization include new validation methods for lower doses in radiation sterilization, which opens up the possibility of terminal sterilization for products that might have been sensitive to traditional higher doses such as 25 kGy, including biologics or pharmaceuticals.
During the NDA review, the FDA asked that the Company determine if terminal sterilization with gamma irradiation is a feasible approach to enhance the assurance of sterility.
The high temperature stability of bioactive glass also accommodates various implant terminal sterilization methods, including autoclave, without adversely affecting or degrading the osteostimulative and/or antimicrobial properties of the implant.
Paul Stewart, Director of Business Development for the Pharma & Biotech department of Telstar Life Sciences, a company that provides steam and super-heated water autoclaves, ethylene oxide sterilizers for device sterilization, depyrogenation ovens and autoclaves for bio-decontamination, a sterilization laboratory, and more, agrees: "For terminal sterilization of pharmaceutical products and for bio-decontamination of materials, steam sterilization is still the most widely used; it's safe, low-cost, and easily validated.
Most important, this change would enable the terminal sterilization of a range of radiation-sensitive products such as drug/device combination products and thereby increase their safety by making it possible to switch from less-reliable aseptic processing to terminal sterilization.
As a result of the complex components of each combination product, sterilization commonly is outsourced to experts such as those at the STS Life Sciences division of Ethox International, which offers a range of terminal sterilization services, such as EO and steam, as well as management services for gamma and e-beam.
Some of the session, workshop, and seminar topics include Process Simulation, Container-Closure Systems, Terminal Sterilization, Gowning and Personnel Qualification, Rapid Microbial Identification, Sanitation and Sterilization Techniques, Aseptic Packaging, and Cleaning Validation.