Legalised non-consensual sterilisation - eugenics put into practice before 1945, and the aftermath. Part 1: USA, Japan, Canada and Mexico

Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2018 Apr;23(2):121-129. doi: 10.1080/13625187.2018.1450973. Epub 2018 Apr 6.


In the late 19th century, eugenics, a pseudo-scientific doctrine based on an erroneous interpretation of the laws of heredity, swept across the industrialised world. Academics and other influential figures who promoted it convinced political stakeholders to enact laws authorising the sterilisation of people seen as 'social misfits'. The earliest sterilisation Act was enforced in Indiana, in 1907; most states in the USA followed suit and so did several countries, with dissimilar political regimes. The end of the Second World War saw the suspension of Nazi legislation in Germany, including that regulating coerced sterilisation. The year 1945 should have been the endpoint of these inhuman practices but, in the early post-war period, the existing sterilisation Acts were suspended solely in Germany and Austria. Only much later did certain countries concerned - not Japan so far - officially acknowledge the human rights violations committed, issue apologies and develop reparation schemes for the victims' benefit.

Keywords: Canada; Japan; Mexico; eugenics; forced; non-consensual; sterilisation; the USA.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Eugenics / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Germany
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Informed Consent / history*
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Mexico
  • National Socialism / history
  • Reproductive Rights / history*
  • Reproductive Rights / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / ethics
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / history*
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States