Examining American Eugenics and Utah’s Sterilization Laws
Jennifer K. Rust
Salt Lake Community College
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol III.
This paper explains the evolution of Eugenics from Mendel’s peas to Nazi Germany. It reveals startling information about the role that American scientists played in the Holocaust. It further discusses that the desire to create a perfect human race can be traced to the American ideal of Providence. This pursuit of human betterment was set into practice by influential and famous Americans through selective immigration, restrictive marriage laws, encouraged procreation of individuals identified as superior, and the sexual sterilization of those deemed unfit.
Utah passed sterilization laws as early as 1925, modeled after sample laws drafted and constitutionally tested by American Eugenicists. There is evidence to support that Utah lawmakers and institutional leadership supported the sterilization of the feeble-minded for the benefit of society and to prevent future menaces to society or wards of the state. While this topic is both uncomfortable and provocative, it is imperative that we study history lest we be condemned to repeat it. Taking accountability for and gaining understanding of decisions made in the past, improves our national character and allows us to better take care of each other on a local level.
The modifications to Utah’s sterilization laws from 1925 to 1988 mirror the national trend of increasingly recognizing the rights and value that developmentally disabled citizens possess. Federal legislation has been enacted to improve accessibility to public buildings and education through the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. From historically segregating these individuals to de-institutionalization to modern campaigns encouraging the inclusion of disabled Americans in the workforce, tremendous gains have been made. Yet an examination of the history provides a perspective into where we can go from here.