Many of our states have serious problems with their prisons, and California is usually out front leading the pack. Last week, PrisonPath posted an article about the ongoing hunger strike by California inmates protesting abusive solitary confinement. The article praised the peaceful protest by the inmates.
California officials in Sacramento have reported that 148 women in California prisons were sterilized without the required approval of a state medical committee. Some of the women have claimed they were coerced and others have asserted that they were misled to undergo the surgeries. State lawmakers are calling for an investigation. Between 2005 and 2010, at least 148 female inmates received tubal ligations that had not been properly approved. Medical directors at the prisons recommended and approved the tubal ligations. There was a ban in California on ligations that were not medically necessary. The operations were performed at outside medical facilities by physicians under contract with the California state correctional system.
There are also allegations of some of the women having their ovaries removed without proper consent. Ten other women have alleged that they were sterilized improperly in procedures other than tubal ligation, including having their ovaries removed. The unauthorized sterilizations were performed on female inmates from the California Institution for women in Corona and Valley state prison located in Chowchilla.
We can protest the California sterilizations as actions similar to the medical policies of Nazi Germany, but the Germans were not the creators nor the first to implement government sanctioned forced sterilization. The United States, for instance, had already enacted sterilization laws in half its states by the 1920s, which included forced sterilization of the criminally insane as well as others. The first German sterilization law was enacted on July 14, 1933 – only six months after Hitler became Chancellor. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (the “Sterilization” Law) allowed for the forced sterilization of anyone suffering from genetic blindness, hereditary deafness, manic depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, congenital feeble-mindedness, Huntington’s Chorea (a brain disorder), and alcoholism.
It is true that the sterilizations in California during 2005 – 2010 were not official state policy, according to the Sacramento report. However, a number of state employees and medical doctors followed improper and unethical medical policy for five years against helpless female inmates. Male inmates were not sterilized. To paraphrase a famous quote, we can judge California by the manner of its treatment of helpless inmates.