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“Nazi Germany was not the first or only country to sterilize people considered “abnormal.” Before Hitler, the United States led the world in forced sterilizations. Between 1907 and 1939, more than 30,000 people in twenty-nine states were sterilized, many of them unknowingly or against their will, while they were incarcerated in prisons or institutions for the mentally ill. “ (A link to quote source).
If you think that stigma doesn’t exist, and that mentally ill people and their advocates need to lighten up then please read the quote again.
“…the United States led the world in forced sterilizations.”
If you are thinking to yourself, ‘Well, that was in the past, that could never happen today.”
Liberal leaning California led the pack in sterilizations. The last one performed under the law was in 1963. So, until just over fifty years ago, sterilizing people with a mental illness was legal.
Consider the case of the woman identified as Mary Moe in 2012. Mary had been hospitalized several times for schizophrenia and when she turned up at an emergency room pregnant a judge ruled that she be forced to undergo an abortion and then sterilization. Fortunately, another judge stepped in and made a different decision. But this was only three short years ago.
I am constantly horrified by the treatment of the mentally ill, and I am using sterilization as just one part of how the mentally ill have been and still are treated in this country. The United States has a very grim report card when it comes to caring for the mentally ill – asylums, lobotomies, electric shock, insulin shock, ice baths, jails, the streets, no treatment, etc.
Obviously sterilization is not a big problem to fight off today. There are still some people who probably believe that all people with a mental illness should be sterilized, but thankfully not too many of them are in a position to make this standard procedure or the law.
But the situations that lead to people implementing laws like sterilization are still present. In order for people to accept the sterilization of others, dehumanization has to take place. The terrible treatment of the mentally ill in this country is as old as racism. And just like racism, its roots are thick and deep and insipid – they don’t let go, or change easily. Many people see the mentally ill as “less than” and don’t care that they are left without treatment in the streets and in prisons, because after all, the mentally ill are not viewed as “fully human” and deserving of compassionate care. The statistics regarding the treatment of the mentally ill prove that dehumanization is still persistent in our culture.
It’s frightening to be mentally ill in America in 2015 – one psychotic episode which involves the police could result in your death, one psychotic episode where you are terrified and confused, could lead to jail time. The loss of income could mean the loss of insurance and treatment. Most of us realize we are only a few steps away from those people who make up the frightening statistics. And the fact that we have to hold on so tight to the way things are or we could watch our lives spiral out of control is dehumanizing – a lack of a safety or security.