Seventy Eight years ago today, on January 1st 1934, the German law entitled “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring” went into effect. Under it the Germans sterilized some 400,000 retarded, blind, deaf, and mentally diseased individuals. Most were sterilized by the time World War II really got up to full speed. When they ran out of clinically identifiable genetically diseased individuals the Nazis began sterilizing Afro-Germans.
During the Nuremberg trials there was a move to prosecute Nazis who took part in the sterilizations. The Nazis were able to successfully defend their actions by referring to virtually identical laws in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and (the country they suggested provided them with the inspiration) the United States of America.
The US forced sterilization eugenics campaigns may have begun in 1897, but they did not really take off until 1927 when they were legitimized by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell. The Supreme Court never ruled that compulsory sterilization was in-and-of-itself unconstitutional. In 1942, with Skinner v. Oklahoma, it ruled that compulsory sterilization of criminals was unconstitutional only if white collar criminals were excluded from the sterilization program.
After the Nuremberg trials connected the US sterilization laws to some of the same Nazis who helped run the death camps, support for compulsory sterilization in the US declined. The last compulsory sterilization in the US (under the eugenics laws) took place in Oregon in 1981. The Oregon Board of Eugenics, later renamed the Board of Social Protection, existed until 1983.