Victims of Eugenic Sterilization in Utah: Cohort Demographics and Estimate of Living Survivors
Eugenicists at the beginning of the twentieth century feared that the "unfit" were outbreeding the "fit" and promoted interventions like sterilization as a solution to the perceived problem. Over 60,000 people were sterilized across the United States, victims of eugenic programs implemented in 32 states. Utah had a particularly aggressive eugenic sterilization program, hailed by eugenicists for sterilizing such a large proportion of its population, and lasting well into the 1970s. The goal of the present study was to determine who, at the demographic level, was targeted by this eugenic practice in Utah, and to also estimate how many survivors of the program might still be alive in 2023.
We used archival records and data abstracted from charts at the Utah State Developmental Center to construct an observational cohort of people sterilized under Utah's coercive, eugenic sterilization program. We described the demographics of the cohort and presented a life table analysis to estimate the number of survivors still living in 2023.
At least 830 men, women, and children (modal age of 15-19, 53.6% female) were sterilized in Utah institutions under a program that was launched in 1925, peaked in the 1940s, and concluded in the 1970s. The life table analysis predicts approximately 54 survivors (36 women, 18 men), with an average age of 78.
Many people sterilized under Utah's eugenics law are likely living today. While some states have taken steps to reckon with their roles in depriving people of their reproductive rights, Utah lacks even an official acknowledgement of this shameful, medical history. Given the advanced age of the potential survivors, time is running out for a reconciliation that can be experienced by those who were most harmed by the practice.
This research was supported by three grants from the National Human Genome Research Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (RM1HG009037, R25HG010020, R01HG010567).