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July 1979

Legal Implications of Sterilization of the Mentally Retarded

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Maternal Health and Family Planning, University of Texas Health Science Center, Dallas.

Am J Dis Child. 1979;133(7):697-699. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1979.02130070033006

• For more than 50 years, sterilization of mentally retarded persons was an accepted practice in many states as a way to reduce the number of persons born with mental defects. In recent years, the practice has come under heavy challenge, both medically and legally. At present, only 19 states have statutes that allow sterilizations for eugenic reasons. This article examines important court decisions regarding eugenic sterilization laws and the legal status of sterilization of mentally retarded adults and minors, as well as the consequent legal implications for physicians. Federal funding restrictions on sterilization of mentally impaired persons are discussed. The requirement of voluntary, informed consent is considered in light of an increasing emphasis on the rights of mentally retarded persons as well as greater awareness of the psychological effects of involuntary sterilization.

(Am J Dis Child 133:697-699, 1979)