Oregon Governor Apologizes For Eugenics "Misdeeds"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 2, 2002
SALEM, OREGON--"Today, I am here to acknowledge a great wrong done to more than 2,600 Oregonians over a period of about 60 years-forced sterilization in accordance with a doctrine called eugenics," Governor John Kitzhaber told a group of reporters in a prepared statement Monday.
Kitzhaber noted that most of those sterilized between 1917 and 1983 were people with "mental disorders and disabilities" housed in state-run institutions. Many were forced, by state law, to undergo surgery to be made sterile before they could be allowed to leave such facilities. Others who were sterilized included criminals, homosexuals, and teenage girls who "misbehaved".
"The time has come to apologize for misdeeds that resulted from widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry. It's the right thing to do, the just thing to do. The time has come to apologize for public policies that labeled people as 'defective' simply because they were ill, and declared them unworthy to have children of their own."
"To those who suffered, I say, The people of Oregon are sorry. Our hearts are heavy for the pain you endured."
Kitzhaber is the second governor to formally apologize for a state's part in the eugenics movement of the 20th century. In May of this year, Virginia's Governor Mark R. Warner officially apologized for the forced sterilizations of 8,300 people in his state. Thirty-one other states in the U.S., along with two Canadian provinces, were responsible for sterilizing more than 60,000 men and women, boys and girls. Germany's dictator Adolph Hitler modeled his massive Nazi sterilization law in part on that of Virginia.
Eugenics, roughly based on the idea of "natural selection", was the belief that society should be "improved" by keeping "unfit or unwanted" people from having children. The American Eugenics movement was fully discredited later in the century as a racist "non-science".
During his speech, Kitzhaber also noted that Oregon has "made remarkable progress" in how it treats its citizens with disabilities.
"In the past ten years, the state has progressed to a point at which we actually devote more resources to community care than to institutions-which illustrates how far we've come. We have replaced the traditional old rambling institutions with smaller facilities and a vast array of options for community housing and employment for those who suffer mental disorders and disabilities. In the past 25 years, we've closed the Columbia Park Hospital in The Dalles, Eastern Oregon Hospital in Pendleton, Dammasch in Wilsonville, and Fairview in Salem, meaning that the patients who lived in those institutions now live in the friendlier, more therapeutic environments of our communities."
Kitzhaber also used the opportunity to proclaim December 10 as the state's Human Rights Day, in memory of those who had been forcibly sterilized.
"On this day, we will renew our determination to protect the rights of all people, regardless of their color, their religious or philosophical beliefs, their sexual preference, their economic status, their illnesses or disabilities. We value them all, for they are our brothers and sisters."
"Denied A Choice" (Eugene Register-Guard)
Oregonians Get Apology For Sterilizations