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Task Force Considers Compensation For 7,600 People Sterilized By NC

A newly-formed task force will meet in Raleigh next week to begin deliberating over an ugly period in North Carolina history. The group is responsible for deciding how the state should compensate thousands of people who were forcibly sterilized by the North Carolina Eugenics Board as recently as the 1960s. While most state-sponsored sterilization programs ended after World War II, North Carolina's didn't. "We stood out because our program actually sterilized more people after World War II," says Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. "That's why we have a lot more victims than other states who are still living." Some 7,600 people - mostly women - were forcibly sterilized in the state and about half of them are believed to be still living. In 1929, North Carolina passed a law allowing sterilization of people institutionalized in mental hospitals and prisons. Over the next 40 years, the program expanded to take referrals from social workers and citizens. "Anyone in North Carolina could say, 'I want to have my neighbor sterilized - I feel that she's too promiscuous,'" says Fuller Cooper. "Or they would say that this young lady frequents this area or this young man is a trouble maker or this person is feeble-minded." Fuller Cooper says many people with epilepsy or on state welfare programs were also required to be sterilized. The North Carolina Eugenics Board was abolished in 1977. About ten years ago, the state issued an apology to victims. Now a task force is meeting to determine how victims should be compensated. Fuller Cooper says patient records from the Eugenics Board are not complete enough for the state to get in touch with victims. As a result, only those who contact the Sterilization Victims Foundation at 1-877-550-6013 and have their identity confirmed in the records will be eligible for compensation. Only 15 matches have been made so far. "The main holdup is a lot of people are really waiting to come forward until they know if compensation or some other form of services are going to be given," says Fuller Cooper. A legislative committee in 2008 recommended victims receive $20,000 each. The current task force will make a recommendation in August and a final report is due to the Governor in early 2012. At that point, the state legislature will have to approve the compensation plan and allocate funding for sterilization victims. Clarification The NC Sterilization Victims Foundation says records show some of the 7,600 victims of the state's Eugenics laws consented to sterilization, but it's unclear if they were fully informed about the permanent impact of the procedure.