Opinion: Daily Journal

Missed Opportunity on Eugenics

RALEIGH – As I observed yesterday, the new budget plan for 2012-13 contains many good provisions. I admit to being frustrated, however, at the unwillingness of conferees to include $10 million to compensate victims of North Carolina’s forced-sterilization program.

If you’ve been following the Carolina Journal coverage and the John Locke Foundation’s research analysis of the issue, you know the arguments for compensation. There are few government actions more abhorrent than using the power of the state to sterilize citizens deemed “unfit to reproduce” by some government council or bureaucrat. When government violates the rights of individuals, justice requires that they be compensated for their loss. The longer we wait, the more victims will pass away without receiving their just compensation.

The failure is a bipartisan one. Past Democratic governors and legislatures did nothing. The new Republican-led legislature seemed poised to address the issue. Democratic lawmakers created an unnecessary complication a couple of weeks ago by running a tax-hike amendment that include the eugenics compensation. Surely they knew the amendment would fail, and they should have known that Senate rules would preclude bringing eugenics compensation up again, even in the budget bill. But if enough Republicans and Democrats had signaled their willingness to vote to suspend the rule, compensation could still have been enacted. They didn’t, so it wasn’t.

Would eugenics compensation have set a bad precedent and open the door to more costly and controversial ideas such as slavery reparations? Absolutely not. There are no former slaves still living. The compensation program for sterilization victims was carefully designed to apply only to living victims, not to descendants, in part to avoid any such precedent. (Some victims had children before becoming sterilized.)

This is not the beginning of some wide-ranging effort to right every wrong that may have occurred over the past four centuries of American history. This is a discrete program to address wrongs that occurred within our lifetimes, to North Carolinians who are still alive.

To those individuals who may have convinced themselves that sterilization really wasn’t all that bad a policy – because, after all, the victims’ children would have become a burden on taxpayers – I would say that you really need to think about the implications of your position. It is true that one argument against big government is that it makes everything the business of the state. If you expand government health insurance programs to include most or all of the population, for example, you will inevitably force taxpayers to finance the consequences of poor decisions about personal health.

Is the proper response to enact government policies that dictate nutrition, exercise, and other personal decisions? If you think that, you are allied with the likes of Mayor Bloomberg and the enforcers of the nanny state. If such allies make you nervous, then check your premises. The right – by which I also mean Right – response to the problem is not to impose some public will on private individuals. It is to shrink government and ensure that people retain both the freedom to choose and the responsibility to live with their decisions.

So back in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, the right response to the issue of escalating welfare rolls was not for the government to sterilize people. It was to reform welfare programs to discourage out-of-wedlock births, encourage work, and transfer the responsibility of caring for the chronically poor or infirm from the impersonal government to family members, churches, charities, and other mediating institutions.

In my opinion, eugenics compensation should have been a high priority for the 2012-13 budget. Some legislators apparently didn’t agree. Well, there’s always next year – except perhaps for some elderly victims who won’t be with us in 2013.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and author of Our Best Foot Forward: An Investment Plan for North Carolina’s Economic Recovery.