Full text: Problems in eugenics

WAGiiNEN.Appendix.465 3.—History of Sterilization Legislation in the United States. 
In eight of the States of the Union there are laws authorizing or 
requiring sterilization of certain classes of defectives and degenerates. 
The first law was passed in Indiana in 1907, and the last in the State 
of New York in 1912. The other States which have enacted similar laws 
are Connecticut, California, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, and Washington. 
Except in Indiana and in California little or nothing has been done to 
carry out these laws. Their constitutionality is in question. Attorneys- 
general for the several states do not seem anxious to defend suits and appear 
to encourage delay in putting the laws into operation, and in Indiana, where 
for seven or eight years vasectomy was practised without law and exclusively 
at the request or with the consent of the person operated upon, and for two 
years thereafter under the law of 1907 compulsorily, there have been no 
operations since 1909 except a very few cases at their own request, not ten 
in all. In New Jersey a suit is pending in the Supreme Court to determine the 
right of the state to have sterilized certain confirmed criminals, insane, 
epileptics, and feeble-minded persons who have been certified by the State 
Commission as proper subjects for the operation. As the entering of a suit 
stays the execution of the law, it seems likely that these cases may not be 
pressed for trial for some time, unless a strong public interest should 
demand a speedy adjudication. Such interest is not apparent at present. 
An eminent legal authority of New York City, Mr. Louis Marshall, has 
given this committee his views about the constitutionality of the law so far 
as it relates to criminals. He says (I quote in part):— 
“ Except so far as prohibited by the constitutional prohibition against the 
imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, I believe that it is within the 
power of the State to inflict the death penalty in such cases as at common 
law were subject to that punishment, and to impose imprisonment up to the 
limit of incarceration for life, due regard being had to the nature and 
character of the crime sought to be punished.” 
“ The prohibition against the infliction of cruel and inhuman punishment 
is difficult of precise definition. It is generally understood to have 
reference to the imposition of torture, of a punishment which is barbarous 
and wanton and repugnant to the public conscience. Electrocution has been 
held not to constitute cruel and unusual punishment within the inhibition of 
the Constitution, in People ex rel Kemmler v. Durston, 119 N. Y. 559, 
Affd. 136 U. S. 436, 446. The decapitation of a hand of a kleptomaniac, 
the branding of one who has committed the crime of burglary, or the 
amputation of the sexual organs of one guilty of adultery, would, doubtless, 
in this age, be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.” 
“ I understand that the operation of vasectomy is painless and has no 
effect upon the person upon whom it is imposed, other than to render it HH

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