Indiana "atones for" being a pioneer in an area it wishes it were not a pioneer in:
Indiana atoned Thursday for its role in pioneering the state-authorized sterilization of "imbeciles," paupers, criminals and others it deemed undesirable, expressing regret for passing the first such law 100 years ago.
Then-Gov. J. Frank Hanly in 1907 signed the state law widely regarded as the first in the world to permit sterilization in a misguided effort to improve the quality of the human race. Before ending the practice in 1974, Indiana sterilized about 2,500 people; nationally, 65,000 people in 30 states were given vasectomies, tubal ligations and other operations in a eugenics movement that eventually reached horrific proportions in Nazi Germany.
"Indiana's role in the history of eugenics is one that we do need to acknowledge, we do need to learn from. It is one that we do regret but we should not forget," Health Commissioner Dr. Judith Monroe said during a symposium at the Indiana State Library.
The way to learn from history, so as not to repeat its mistakes, is not to merely regret the specifics of one bad decision. At the time Indiana became the trend-setter in eugenics legislation, that practice was all the rage in our learning institutions and among the scientific community. There are quite a few issues today about which we need to keep remembering that "consensus" is not the same thing as science. "Everybody knows" can still be debated. Law tends to end the debate.