Don’t Make Eugenics “Great” Again: Oppose Forced Sterilization!

One of our organizers was recently told about a plan by a group of lawyers representing guardians of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to have the Washington State Supreme court make a form for approving forced sterilization, a form of medical abuse, of people under guardianship. Guardianship is where someone, usually a parent or other relative, has complete legal and medical control over another person, usually someone with a developmental disability or another disability. A person under guardianship has very few legal rights/protections. Forced sterilization is a form of medical abuse where a person’s ability to have children is taken away via surgery without their consent [1].

Forced sterilization is completely legal in every U.S. state after having been found constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Buck. v. Bell [2] and many states, Washington included, have clarified in recent years when and how it can be done legally [3]. Still, forced sterilization is used far less than it used to be. Washington State law first allowed courts to sterilize “habitual criminals” in 1909 under a law known as RCW 9.92.100 [4].

In 1980, the Washington Supreme Court found in a case called In re Guardianship of Hayes that they had the power to approve or deny requests by a guardian for the person under their guardianship to be sterilized if

  1. the person under guardianship is represented by a person who acts in the “best interests” of the person under guardianship (guardian ad litem) who has no personal stake in the court case
  2. the court has received independent advice based upon a comprehensive medical, psychological, and social evaluation of the individual
  3. to the greatest extent possible, the court has asked for and taken into account the view of the person under guardianship

as well as ten requirements called “Hayes Requirements” which deal with whether the person under guardianship is sexually active, can have sex, and/or can care for a child [5].

At the moment, there is no easy way for guardians to ask the Washington Supreme Court to forcibly sterilize a person under guardianship. This is because there are no forms that guardians can just fill out and then get approved with maybe around twenty minutes of arguments for and against by each party. Most of the time, it is done illegally with no consequences for 1) the doctors who sterilized the person or 2) the parent/guardians who asked for the sterilization, such as the case with Ashley X in Seattle [6].

Since eugenics is becoming more mainstream again (along with other fascist ideas), ableist parents of people with I/DD want to make it easier to sterilize their children without their children’s consent. On November 28th of this year, the Guardianship Forms Subcommittee sent out an email asking for advice on creating specific forms for the Washington Supreme Court to approve or deny a guardian’s request to sterilize the person under their guardianship. Linked here is what the subcommittee believes the forms may look like [7]. It includes a waiver saying the guardian wants a guardian ad litem to represent the person under their guardianship and an explanation for why they want the court to approve forced sterilization of the person under their guardianship.

These forms try to make the process of asking the Washington Supreme Court to allow a legal, forced sterilization clearer to parents/guardians as well as speeding up that legal process so that people under guardianship will be forcibly sterilized more quickly than before. Creating these forms will result in more forced sterilizations in Washington state. Forced sterilization is, again, a traumatic, human rights violating form of medical abuse that cannot be allowed to occur any longer!

So what is to be done?

The subcommittee proposing these forms specifically requested “the voice of disabled people and those who advocate for them” for advice, saying our voices were “of utmost importance to this decision.” [8] We need to respond to their call for advice and overwhelm them with our comments in opposition. They need to know we are watching what they are doing and we will not allow this policy of eugenics to happen—not now, not ever.

The person in charge of receiving comments about the forms is Commissioner Rebekah Zinn (Washington State Pattern Forms Committee Chair). Her email, as listed on the call for advice, is

Please email her opposing this proposal and mention any personal connection you have on this issue. A sample format is linked here at our campaign page. In addition, make sure to share this article on social media and tell people you know about this issue. Together, we can make them listen and stop this practice!

In solidarity,
Washington—No Modern Asylum

[1] Wording/definition via Kit Mead.

[2] The Real Tragedy of Buck v. Bell 

[3] In re Guardianship of Hayes

[4] RCW 9.92.100 Prevention of procreation.

[5] Full Hayes requirements in this form 

[6] Ashley X 

[7] Motion for Sterilization (PROPOSED FORM)

[8] Letter for Advice on Sterilization Forms

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