Friday, January 05, 2007

Ashley X

The story in yesterday`s Times about the girl Ashley X who suffers from encephalopathy but was treated by doctors to keep her small (see The Times) still arouses discussion.

A major part of the treatment involved a procedure which in effect sterilised Ashley X.

It might be useful if one is reminded of the time (from the 1920s to the Seventies) when there was on the statute book laws which permitted the compulsory sterilisation of those who were deemed "imbeciles".

In 1924, Virginia, like a majority of states then, enacted eugenic sterilization laws. Virginia's law allowed state institutions to operate on individuals to prevent the conception of what were believed to be "genetically inferior" children. Charlottesville native Carrie Buck (1906-1983), involuntarily committed to a state facility near Lynchburg, was chosen as the first person to be sterilized under the new law.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, on 2 May 1927, affirmed the Virginia law. After Buck, more than 8,000 other Virginians were sterilized before the most relevant parts of the act were repealed in 1974.

Later evidence eventually showed that Buck and many others had no "hereditary defects."

See University of Virginia Healthsystem: Center for Biomedical Ethics website