Eugenics and Involuntary Sterilization: 1907-2015

Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2015:16:351-68. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genom-090314-024930.


In England during the late nineteenth century, intellectuals, especially Francis Galton, called for a variety of eugenic policies aimed at ensuring the health of the human species. In the United States, members of the Progressive movement embraced eugenic ideas, especially immigration restriction and sterilization. Indiana enacted the first eugenic sterilization law in 1907, and the US Supreme Court upheld such laws in 1927. State programs targeted institutionalized, mentally disabled women. Beginning in the late 1930s, proponents rationalized involuntary sterilization as protecting vulnerable women from unwanted pregnancy. By World War II, programs in the United States had sterilized approximately 60,000 persons. After the horrific revelations concerning Nazi eugenics (German Hereditary Health Courts approved at least 400,000 sterilization operations in less than a decade), eugenic sterilization programs in the United States declined rapidly. Simplistic eugenic thinking has faded, but coerced sterilization remains widespread, especially in China and India. In many parts of the world, involuntary sterilization is still intermittently used against minority groups.

Keywords: heredity; immigration restriction; population control.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Eugenics / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Population Growth
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / history*
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / statistics & numerical data
  • United States