Of course we should compensate the remaining victims of NC’s sterilization program. But payment – in whatever amount – will never be enough. Our state also needs to recognize and remember one of our biggest collective failures so that we can try and make sure it never happens again. How? Well, over the years we’ve had some suggestions:
1. Back in 2007 I proposed the museum exhibit that the state Department of Health and Human Services put together with an excellent and very compact overview of NC’s eugenics sterilization program be given a prominent and permanent home at the NC Museum of History. It’s great to learn about the Wright Brothers, but there are other aspects to NC’s history we must never forget. How can we learn from our history if great exhibits like this remained stored away and quickly forgotten?
2. As Adam Linker has suggested, why tuck a historical marker about the eugenics program on a side street when it could go on the Capitol Square?
3. There are other ways to remember. One of the most prominent social workers and reformers in the country, Ellen Winston, who served as the first national Commissioner of Welfare in the Johnson Administration was a prime mover in NC’s eugenics program. Her role and the role of the institutions she represented like UNC and the state welfare program should more fully explored.
What are some of the consequences of not facing up to this history? Well, a few years ago the NC Medical Care Commission allowed a experiment of a fake blood substitute (Polyheme) to go forward in Durham where victims picked up by ambulance were involuntarily given this experimental fluid – and continued involuntarily receiving it in the hospital. Only one problem with this involuntary experiment on Durham’s population:
“Scarier was the study’s safety data, which went against Polyheme in every way measured. Patients treated with Polyheme reported more serious adverse events, more heart attacks and greater risks to the kidneys than the control patients.”
Let’s be clear. Just a few years ago people in Durham involuntarily received a “treatment” that was highly experimental, to which they or their families never consented – even after consent could be gotten in the hospital – and, as a result of which, some of them most likely died or became very, very ill. Now tell me we don’t need to better remember our shameful NC history of involuntary medical procedures.