Court discusses Indiana's 1907 eugenic sterilization law

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court will host an educational seminar Wednesday about how Indiana adopted the first eugencial sterilization law in the world 100 years ago.

A panelist discussion and presentation about the law will be from 3 to 4:15 p.m. in the Supreme Court ;s courtroom at the statehouse.

Indiana passed the law in 1907, and subsequently similar laws were adopted in more than 30 states and a dozen countries worldwide. The Indiana Supreme Court overturned the state statute in 1921, but a new law was enacted in 1927 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that endorsed eugenic sterilization. Approximately 2,500 people in state custody were ultimately sterilized before the governor repealed all sterilization and related restrictive marriage laws in the 1970s.

But in a 1978 case, Stump v. Sparkman, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld judicial immunity for an Indiana judge whose ex parte order led to the sterilization of a 15-year-old girl.

This CLE course will involve a lawyer, bioethicist, and a physician who will discuss this still controversial topic of involuntary sterilization in historical context; they will also reflect on how new insights from the Human Genome project have affected it.

This presentation will also be broadcast online at under the "special events" link. The sold-out event is free, but standby reservations are being accepted. A total of 1.3 CLE credit hours have been approved, which is part of the ongoing Indiana Supreme Court Legal History Lecture Series. Information is available by contacting Dr. Elizabeth Osborn at (317) 232-2550.

A public dedication ceremony for a state historical marker to commemorate the law will be at 12:30 p.m. Thursday on the east lawn of the Indiana State Library and Historical Building, 140 N. Senate Ave. A free symposium titled "Indiana Eugenics: History and Legacy, 1907-2007" will also be conducted that day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the library.

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