Repductive rights of MRDD Essay

This essay has a total of 1303 words and 10 pages.


repductive rights of MRDD














Involuntary Sterilization
The Reproductive Rights of the Developmentally Disabled







Allison Burnham








Marriage and Family
Instructor Sister Agatha Niebrugge
February 15 2001











Involuntary Sterilization
The Reproductive Rights of the Developmentally Disabled

Sterilization of the developmentally disabled or the mentally retarded is an issue that
has long been debated in America. Mental retardation is defined as the inability to learn
normally and develop mentally. Traditionally in America if a mentally retarded person was
born to a family, that family had 2 choices- take care of the child at home, or it was
strongly recommended that the child was sent to a state run institution or hospital. The
state institution was where this person would spend his or her entire life. Unfortunately
these hospitals were often huge warehouses of people with disabilities, or mental
illnesses. These hospitals offered no contact with the community to the people that lived
there, and were often poorly run, and patients were over medicated, and sometimes abused.
The sterilization of persons with mental retardation began as a method of birth control in
state hospitals and was carried on with the idea that the mentally retarded will not be
able to care for their children or that they will produce more mentally retarded children.

A mentally retarded person exhibits a low level of intelligence and impaired adaptive
behavior; Biomedical specialists typically view retardation as the manifestation of an
impaired brain. Other experts emphasize the importance of social and cultural influences
in defining retardation; proponents of this viewpoint consider intelligence relative,
depending on the social setting (Farber 21).


It should be noted that in the past, children of unwed mothers, and immigrants were often
labeled as mentally retarded as well. The majority of people though, that do have
developmental disabilities are only considered mildly retarded and are able to function in
society having the ability to hold jobs and develop and maintain relationships and live
independently if they have access to education and the community.

Early in the twentieth century the plight of the metal retarded was ignored or dealt with
primarily in state institutions. In addition authorities regarded mentally retarded women
as being sexually promiscuous and as producing many illegitimate children (Farber 29).
Because of this belief many retarded women would be placed in state institutions at the
onset of puberty and sometimes released when they reached menopause. Many people have
advocated sterilization for the retarded. Nobel Prize winning physicist William Schockley
is quoted saying that he advocated sterilization for people with low IQs and supported a
sperm bank for geniuses. A letter from Ben wood, a father of IQ testing stated his beliefs
at the education testing service in 1972 when he said:

It may be said in all soberness that professional reliefers and most other indigents who
produce children thereby commit crimes against humanity which are fully as serious as many
acts now considered felonies. They have no moral right to produce such children and
therefore should have no legal right to immunity from punishment that constructively fits
the crime, such as some form of painless sterilization of both guilty parents, which would
be permanent.


Before 1930 there were numerous elite groups interested in the problems of the mentally
retarded. Some of them were connected with eugenics and sterilization. However, in the
early 1900’s several states had already passed laws permitting the sterilization of
the mentally retarded. These laws were enacted in the belief that 90% of feeblemindedness
was familial in origin (Baumeister 32).

Actions have been taken to reverse these laws in recent years mostly because of the
backlash of the mentally retarded that have been unknowingly sterilized, and because of
human rights advocate’s. In the Supreme Court case Skinner V. Oklahoma, the courts
decided that “Involuntary sterilization infringes upon the fundamental rights of man
to procreate and have children”. But still in this country 40 states deny a retarded
person the right to marry, supposedly because mentally retarded individuals are not
competent marriage partners. However, in society about one out four marriage ends in
divorce and the abuse of children and spouses goes on every day. By these standards most
people with normal IQ’s would not be seen as good partners or parents. The other
excuse for sterilization is that the mentally retarded will give birth to more babies with
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