Against Their Will

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The Quiet Workings of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina Come to Light.

For 40 years, up until 1974, five members of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina met quietly to assess sterilization petitions. Sterilization was ordered in more than 90 percent of cases.

By the 1960s, most of the cases involved young black women whom social workers and psychologists often summarily labeled "feebleminded."

In a series of articles in 2002, the Winston-Salem Journal revealed "how North Carolina sterilized more than 7,600 people, often against their will and on the flimsiest of pretexts," and raised important questions. The December 12, 2002 editorial asks:

Could something like this happen here, today?

The eugenics movement and its failed attempt at social engineering have been discredited. But how does our society today deal with the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the misfits, the poor, the elderly, the neglected and abused children?

Do we treat those who are different from us because of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation as we should, or do we still harbor prejudices?

Are we paying as much attention as we should to the decisions that are being made about such issues as cloning, genetic engineering, stem-cell research — or do we just leave all that to somebody else?

Read the entire series of Against Their Will: North Carolina's Sterilization Program.