Originally posted June 5, 2018
Here is an excerpt:
Eugenics survivors are those who have lived through eugenic interventions, which typically begin with being categorised as less than fully human – as ‘feeble-minded’, as belonging to a racialised ethnic group assumed to be inferior, or as having a medical condition, such as epilepsy, presumed to be heritable. That categorisation enters them into a eugenics pipeline.
Each such pipeline has a distinctive shape. The Alberta pipeline involved institutionalisation at training schools for the ‘feeble-minded’ or mentally deficient, followed by a recommendation of sterilisation by a medical superintendent, which was then approved by the Eugenics Board, and executed without consent. Alberta’s introduction of guidance clinics also allowed eugenic sterilisation to reach into the non-institutionalised population, particularly schools.
What roles have the stories of eugenics survivors played in understanding eugenics? For the most part and until recently, these first-person narratives have been absent from the historical study of eugenics. On its traditional view, according to which eugenics ended around 1945, this is entirely understandable. The number of survivors dwindles over time, and those who survived often chose, as did many in Alberta, to bracket off rather than re-live their past. Yet the limited presence of survivor narratives in the study of eugenics also stems from a corresponding limit in the safe and receptive audience for those narratives.