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NC to Pay Thousands to Sterilization Victims?

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on December 29, 2011 6:01 AM

North Carolina's sterilization law harmed thousands of residents. Now, victims of the state's eugenics program may soon be compensated. A task force assembled by the Gov. Bev Perdue is attempting to locate and contact living victims.

North Carolina would become the first state to give sterilized individuals financial compensation.

The eugenics movement started in the early 1900s. Sterilization laws were adopted in around 30 states. They were passed to benefit the human race by ensuring individuals who were "defective" did not procreate.

The North Carolina law authorized state-ordered sterilizations starting in 1929. Around 7,600 people were sterilized under the eugenics program. An estimated 1,500 still live today.

North Carolina is just one of many states that had eugenics programs. Thousands of individuals across the nation were sterilized under similar laws. Many were disabled or mentally ill. Others were sterilized because they had low IQ. Some victims were as young as 10 years old when they underwent the medical procedure, reports The Charlotte Observer.

Gov. Perdue created the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims group last year in an effort to find survivors. Around 68 victims have contacted the group thus far.

The task force's starting point: $20,000 per victim. The group also discussed limiting the compensation only to victims and not their families. Some victims have already expressed their belief that this isn't enough.

Isn't forced sterilization against the U.S. Constitution? Not quite. Sterilization laws were legal and constitutionally valid in the United States for many years. In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman's sterilization in Buck v. Bell. The ruling essentially upheld sterilization laws for those who are mentally defective.

Sterilization laws persisted relatively unchallenged until the court ruled in Skinner v. Oklahoma in 1942 that forced sterilization on some felons was unconstitutional.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, sterilization laws continued until the mid-1970s . North Carolina's sterilization program continued until 1974.

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