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Lewis Reynolds is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served his country for thirty years, fighting in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He has been married for 47 years and is 85 years old. He does not, however, have any children because he was forcibly and legally sterilized under Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act (1).

Mr. Reynolds was not born epileptic. A rock hit him in the head when he was nine and he became a seizure patient. As a result, he was sterilized to stop “the propagation of their kind (2).” Sterilized, I might add, without his knowledge.

Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act was passed in 1924, making it legal to forcibly sterilize any “mental defective” for the “the welfare of society (3).” The law was cemented in the famous “Buck v. Bell” case of 1924, when Virginia Colony (the largest sterilization center in Virginia) officials used patient Carrie Buck to test their law. The 17-year-old girl had been raped and was pregnant. They never brought up the rape in trial, however. They simply showed that she was “feeble minded,” was promiscuous, and that her mother had been committed to an asylum. It was therefore likely that her child would grow up the same. The court held that forced sterilization was, indeed, in the public interest (3).

After 1924, approximately 8,000 people were legally sterilized in Virginia (4). The most common recipients of the treatment were unwed mothers, epileptics and those it deemed “feebleminded,” mostly poor and uneducated (2).

According to patient Anna Seal, she was simply called in, told she needed an “operation for her health” and left sterile, completely unaware of what had transpired. (4). The country lauded the program as a step forward, weeding out those with “unfit human traits (4).”

In defense of the good people of Virginia, I only know of this story because two state legislators are proposing compensation for those sterilized under the Virginia law awarding about $50,000 per person (2) for those survivors of the program. I hope it passes. I read that North Carolina is doing the same thing. Thirty-three states actually adopted forced sterilization laws (6) and during their reign, more than 60,000 people in this country were sterilized (7). I hope precedent is set and the rest of the country is forced to pay those who are currently living with the ghosts of their past.

After World War Two, when the atrocities of Nazi Germany came to light, support for Eugenics programs waned. But the people of Virginia still supported their programs. Evidence of this is that people were still forcibly sterilized in Virginia as late as the 1970’s (5). The State of Virginia did not repeal the Eugenical Sterilization Act until 1979. I was ten years old then. Thank God I never lived in Virginia because I have two amazing daughters and I don’t know how I would live without them. And despite what the doctors and lawmakers in Virginia may think, my kids don’t fall down.

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