Canadian women compensated for sterilisation

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 10 February 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:330
  1. Owen Dyer

    A Canadian court has awarded a woman $C740 280 (pounds sterling370 140; $555 210) for being sterilised as part of a eugenics programme in the western province of Alberta. The Alberta Eugenics Board was founded in 1928 to apply the Sexual Sterilization Act, by which people classed as “feeble-minded” were forcibly sterilised, often without their knowledge.

    Ms Liliana Muir, aged 51, took the provincial government to court over the sterilisation inflicted on her in 1959 while she was confined at the Red Deer Training School for Mental Defectives. She was told at the time that the operation was an appendicectomy and only discovered its true nature in 1966. The sterilisation was authorised after she scored 64 in an IQ test at the age of 14 and was classified as a moron. Tests taken after she left the institution gave her a score of 87, within the normal range.

    The government admitted that she was wrongfully sterilised and offered $C60000 (pounds sterling30000; $45000) in settlement, equivalent to the compensation for a sexual assault. But Judge Joanne Veit found that the circumstances of the operation were high handed and undertaken in an atmosphere that so little respected Ms Muir's human dignity that the community's and the court's sense of decency was offended. Judge Veit ordered the government to pay $C740 280 for the sterilization, the detention, the stigma associated with the label moron, and accumulated interest.

    The Alberta Eugenics Board was not shut down until 1972, when the Sexual Sterilization Act was repealed. The board ordered the sterilisation of 2832 people—over half of them women, and most from poor backgrounds. A quarter were native Indians, although indigenous people make up only 2.5% of the province's population.

    Sandra Anderson, Ms Muir's lawyer, is representing another 28 victims who have claims against the government. The Sterilization Act gave the board fairly narrow powers to sterilise mentally subnormal people, people with epilepsy, and people with certain genetic diseases affecting the brain, but these limits were routinely transgressed.—OWEN DYER, freelance journalist, Montreal

    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution