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Sterilization of Indians in the U.S. 1972-76

Mar 16, 2006 09:33 PM
by krsanna

Chuck -- I'll provide you with some accepted American "science" used 
to justify atrocities and accepted at all levels in its day.  In the 
meantime, an introduction to 20th century policies.  

Best regards,

A Look at the Indian Health Service 
Policy of Sterilization, 1972-1976

by Charles R. England

The purpose of this article is to examine the reasons for and 
results of the investigations prompted by physicians, tribal 
leaders, and senators concerning allegations that the Indian Health 
Service (IHS) was indiscriminately sterilizing Indian women across 
the nation. This topic brings up several questions of morality, 
ethics, and the law. These questions cannot help but be colored by 
the culture and values that we are taught. So it is from this 
perspective that we look at the sterilization policies and 
philosophies that were at work within the IHS-PHS, Department of 
Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) from 1972 to 1976. It was 
during this period that the greatest number of Indian women were put 
under the knife for a plethora of medical, social, and monetary 

This article consists of six categories which will: explore the 
federal relationship with American Indian tribes; describe personal 
accounts from women who were sterilized and their attitudes toward 
family planning; explicate state and federal policies regarding 
informed consent and sterilization; examine the contractual 
relationship between IHS and private practices; consider the U.S. 
General Accounting Office investigation of IHS sterilization 
procedures; and examine the meaning behind the statistics of 
population growth. Finally, it will analyze the historical relevance 
of this topic to the model of internal colonialism under which the 
U.S. government operates.

The federal trust relationship with American Indian tribes is based 
on numerous treaty rights and agreements that include medical 
services and physicians made available to Indians. However, there 
are very few statements that mention medical services specifically; 
instead, there is an implicit understanding of the trust 
responsibility that includes the health of American Indians. As 
stated in the American Indian Policy Review Commission's report on 
Indian health: ...the federal responsibility to provide health 
services to Indians has its roots in the unique moral, historical, 
and treaty obligations of the federal government, no court has ever 
ruled on the precise nature of that legal basis nor defined the 
specific legal rights for Indians created by those obligations (in 
American Indian Journal, 1977: 22-23). The implied meaning of health 
care responsibilities is somewhat vague, but the treaties and 
agreements were always meant to favor Indians.

In 1955, IHS was transferred from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to 
the Public Health Service (PHS). This move was made with the 
expectation that the PHS could improve health care for Indians 
living on reservations. Even after the transfer had taken place, the 
health needs of Indians were still not adequately met. This was due 
to the ambiguous nature of the federal government's responsibility 
to provide health care. In turn, the IHS had no concrete goals or 
objectives and operated day to day with only a faint clue as to how 
it should render services.

To date, an Indian client will be given services that may well vary 
each time that patient walks into an IHS facility: ...the specific 
services available to him will vary from day-to-day and year-to-
year, depending on unpublished discretionary decisions made by 
Indian Health Service officials and commitments and conditions 
contained in often voluminous appropriation hearings (American 
Indian Journal, 1977: 23). This quote suggests that the IHS system 
is ripe for mismanagement of policies, funding, and staff 
supervision. It will also come as no surprise to find that IHS has 
been the subject of a number of investigations.

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