Thursday, January 31, 2008

Immigrants should be sterilized…

Today in my sociology class we watched a National Film Board documentary called, "The Sterilization of Leilani Muir". Here's the basics:

Leilani was born into a family where she was largely unwanted, and had a difficult childhood. Her mother was often inebriated and withheld food from Leilani. However, Leilani reportedly maintained an average performance in school. The only allegations made against her by the school were for stealing food. As Leilani aged, her mother tried to find ways to remove her from the family. When she was eight, Leilani's mother placed her in the Midnapore Convent for a month. Then, in 1953, Leilani's mother sent an application for Leilani to attend the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives (a.k.a the Michener Center) in Red Deer, Alberta. At that time Leilani was rejected due to a high volume of patients, but she was later accepted, on July 12, 1955, shortly before her 11th birthday. Leilani was accepted into the school solely on the basis of information provided by her mother, without any diagnostic testing. Before Leilani could be accepted into PTS, the program required a signature from a guardian permitting the legal enforcement of compulsory sterilization. Leilani's mother used her then boyfriend's (future husband's) name, Harley Scorah, to agree to the sterilization of her daughter. Leilani saw her mother only intermittently over the years until her departure from the school at the age of 20. (read more here)

So Leilani scores 64 on an IQ test and is confirmed for sterilization. The reason: that she should not pass along her deficiencies to her progeny. She's told that she is going to get an appendectomy and when she goes under the knife she also gets a tubal ligation. Later on in life she finds out that she cannot have kids. She also scores an even 101 on a subsequent IQ test. She successfully sues the Alberta Government and wins ¾ of a million dollars in compensation for it suffering.

What surprised me about the documentary is the connection that this legislation had to anti-immigration and racist ideologies. Here's a brief description of the bill's history and impetus:

Here's the line that stands out for me (it was an aspect of the documentary that was especially disturbing as well):

The United Farmers of Alberta (that's right it's the UFA we all know and love?), a grassroots movement, responded quickly to the Survey and called on the government to draft legislation for life segregation or sterilization of the feebleminded. The weight of the survey's results, combined with growing fear that new immigrants were inferior, had generated fears over the protection of land and jobs.

It is irrefutable that anti-immigration sentiments fueled what is ostensibly a not so distant cousin of the Arian race policies of Nazi Germany. Recently, I received some of those ubiquitous forwarded emails which expressed some very strong anti-immigration sentiments. While I understand that immigration policy is very complex and nuanced – it is still very disturbing to read these electronic propaganda pieces which essentially promote much of the same racist overtones.

1 comment:

Lounge MD said...

that's some scary stuff. I also think you can draw some parallels with the current debate over euthanasia and "mercy" killing. What about the ethical implications of being able to detect down syndrome in the womb. Many argue it would be better to abort them rather than allow the "feebleminded" to dwell among us...... History does repeat itself if we do not become students of it.