The Research Project
“Eugenics to Newgenics: Disability, Sexuality and Family Life” stems from Claudia Malacrida’s ongoing interest in disability and reproductive rights. Valued at $318,278, the research will be conducted over a five-year period ending in 2019. The project – and this website – is designed to give an overview of historical eugenic practices in Alberta, Canada and to illustrate how ‘newgenics’ continue to operate.
Fifteen years ago, while researching the history of Michener Centre in Red Deer, Malacrida began collecting and documenting oral histories from people who were sterilized under the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act (1928-1972). During Alberta’s Eugenics era, over 2800 people were involuntarily sterilized under the mistaken belief that problems like poverty and disability could be prevented through selective breeding. The largest group of people involuntarily sterilized were women with intellectual disabilities, many of them residents of Michener Centre.
Moving to the present era, Malacrida has also conducted dozens of interviews with disabled women who are – or hope to be – parents. Many of these women described difficulties in obtaining appropriate supports for their parenting, and challenges in maintaining their families. Others described being strongly discouraged by family members or workers from engaging in relationships or having children.
As she considered these two sets of stories, spanning several decades, she began to see similarities between historical and current ways of responding to disability, sexuality and reproduction.
For example, during the eugenic period, disabled people were housed in institutions and segregated by sex. These were informal ways of ensuring that people who were seen as ‘dangerous’ were prevented from having children. Today, people with disabilities can face similar restrictions on their access to relationships or having children in group homes, or even in their own homes when workers or guardians are not supportive.
Eugenic sterilization is no longer legal in Alberta, but some people with disabilities continue to experience informal eugenic practices. In some interviews, young women today with FASD and other disabilities described being placed on long-term birth control at extremely early ages, sometimes without their full consent or knowledge about side effects. Women with a wide range of disabilities have spoken about the lack of services available to them as mothers, something they see as a hidden message that disabled women should not be having children. Some women have even described having their children removed from them at birth, because of an assumption that disabled women cannot or should not have children. Some young men have spoken about lack of privacy or freedom even in their own homes, that keeps them from exploring their sexuality and having relationships.
In this project, Malacrida and her team spoke with people from Alberta’s eugenic period and people with disabilities today, in order to understand their challenges and successes. They invited people with disabilities – and those who work with them or support them – to come forward and share their experiences about sexuality and parenting, both good and bad. They spoke with disabled people in their 60s to 70s, and disabled people in their 20s to mid-40s about their hopes and experiences in achieving relationships, sexual rights and, where desired, parenthood.
These stories play against historical and current policy and discourse, to outline similarities and differences in law, practice, and attitudes between Alberta’s eugenic age and the present.
The project has received ethical approval through the University of Lethbridge, and all information is treated anonymously and in confidentiality.
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If you are a graduate student, researcher, or media representative interested in speaking with Dr. Malacrida, please contact her directly.
Dr. Claudia Malacrida
Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology
University of Lethbridge
4401 University Drive West
*Please note, all participant names are pseudonyms*