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Supreme Court says No to forced sterilization

The Story

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that mentally handicapped adults cannot be forcibly sterilized. Known as the "Eve decision," the case involved a 24-year-old mentally challenged young woman, "Eve", who had befriended a young man at a school for students with special needs. Eve and her boyfriend talked of marriage as their friendship progressed, but school authorities eventually convinced the couple to end their relationship. Regardless, Eve's mother was troubled by the possibility of her daughter becoming pregnant and went before the courts seeking provincial authorization to have her daughter sterilized. As shown in this CBC News report, the Supreme Court said no.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 23, 1986
Guest(s): Barb Goode, Walter McEwan, Peter Park, Kathleen Ruff
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Vicki Russell
Duration: 2:10

Did You know?

• Justice Gérard La Forest wrote the "Eve decision." He explained, "The grave intrusion on a person's rights and the certain physical damage that ensues from non-therapeutic sterilization without consent, when compared to the questionable advantages that can result from it, have persuaded me that it can never be safely determined that such a procedure is for the benefit of that person."

• La Forest also explained that no evidence existed that showed that failing to sterilize Eve would have a harmful effect on her physical or mental health.

• Eve and her mother were never named in the court case.

• The Supreme Court's decision was very controversial. Dr. Ken Walker, writing under the pseudonym of Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, wrote that "allowing the severely retarded to become parents is a biological time bomb that has major social, political and medical ramifications. This unanimous decision has simply hammered another nail into the coffin of common sense." (Globe and Mail, Feb. 3, 1987).

• Others praised the decision for recognizing the rights of the mentally handicapped. Cathy McPherson of the Coalition of Provincial Organizations for the Handicapped said, "Women with all types of disabilities have been sterilized simply because it was more convenient for the authorities." (Globe and Mail, Oct. 24, 1986)

• Dr. André Blanchet of the Canadian Association for Community Living told the Globe and Mail that sterilizations were commonplace in many institutions until the Eve case made headlines. He said young women routinely underwent hysterectomies for the staff's convenience. (Oct. 24, 1986)

• In 1928, the province of Alberta passed a sexual sterilization law in response to the eugenics movement. This law authorized the sterilization of those classified as psychotic or "mentally defective." In 1933, B.C. followed Alberta's example and also established a sterilization law. These laws were repealed in 1972 and 1973 respectively.

• In 2002, B.C.'s public trustee sued Sandra Crockett for having her mentally challenged son sterilized. Crockett sought to curb her son's inappropriate sexual impulses with a bilateral orchiectomy, a form of castration. The doctor who performed the operation and his Nanaimo Hospital were also sued.

• The case never went to trial and was settled out of court. The doctor who performed the operation agreed to pay Crockett's son $150,000. (The Windsor Star, Oct. 10, 2002)


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