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Pay For NC Sterilization Victims? Initial Recommendations Due Today

A task force appointed by Governor Bev Perdue will make preliminary recommendations today on how North Carolina should compensate victims of its eugenics program. More than 7,600 people were sterilized under the program, which lasted until the early 1970s. Of the several dozen states that had eugenics laws, North Carolina could be the first to compensate its victims. North Carolina has more living sterilization victims than most states because its eugenics program ramped up after World War II when other states were phasing theirs out. An estimated 3,000 people, including LeLa Dunston, could qualify for compensation from the state. The North Carolina Eugenics board ordered Dunston sterilized when she was 13. "They can't pay me enough for my life," says Dunston. "I could have had about some girls that coulda produced some grandbabies for me. You know they just took away my whole life." Dunston is 63 today and lives in Raleigh. Her mother agreed to the sterilization, although research shows approval for the procedure was often coerced. Social workers would sometimes threaten a single mother with loss of welfare benefits if she and her daughters refused sterilization. People with epilepsy, mental illness and low IQs were also targeted by the North Carolina Eugenics Board. The state has since apologized and today a five-member panel of volunteers will present its preliminary recommendation to the governor on how victims should be compensated. An earlier panel recommended $20,000 per victim as a starting point, which would cost the state $60 million if all living victims came forward. But Dunston says that's not enough. "Give me a $100,000, that might be enough," she says, adding she'd use the money to buy a house. The governor's Eugenics Task Force may also recommend other benefits for victims, such as mental health counseling, health care and state income tax waivers. A final recommendation is due in February, at which point state lawmakers will have to decide whether to fund it.