Sterilization of People with Mental Disabilities: Issues, Perspectives, and Cases

By Ellen Brantlinger | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book includes issues, perspectives, and cases related to the sterilization of people with mental retardation. Two inevitable subtopics are sexuality and reproduction. Engaging in intimate relations, getting married, establishing households, and having children are expected of adults in all societies. Youths with intellectual disabilities aspire to marriage and parenthood ( Brantlinger, 1985a, 1988a, 1988b), as do adults ( Craft & Craft, 1978; Heshusius, 1981; Hingsburger, 1988; Koegel & Edgerton, 1982; Zetlin & Turner, 1985). Yet there is little consensus among the general public, families with a member who is mentally retarded, or professionals who work with people with retardation about whether the domestic activities expected of nondisabled people are appropriate for those with retardation. Setting general goals for sexual expression, marriage, and parenthood for people with intellectual disabilities remains more controversial than endorsing their right to literacy or full employment. Given the general silencing of controversial issues, sexual topics--and especially sterilization--are less often addressed than those in vocational and educational domains ( Brantlinger, 1992a; Elkins & Andersen, 1992; Ferguson & Ferguson , 1992; Fine, 1988).

Historically, laws have prevented marriage and childbearing among people judged to be retarded ( Burgdorf, 1983; Corbett, 1989; Finger, 1990). Part of the rationale for the extensive development of public institutions with large open wards and constant surveillance during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was control of "undesirable populations" ( Bogdan, 1993; Foucault, 1973; Green & Armstrong, 1993). During the early part of the twentieth century, more than half of the states enacted laws that required people to be sterilized prior to release from institutions ( Haavik & Menninger

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