Swedish transsexuals win right not to be sterilized

Transsexuals have won a major victory in Sweden. A court has ruled unconstitutional a law which required them to be sterilized before they could be legally recognised as another gender. The Stockholm administrative court of appeal ruled that the practice also violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

About 500 people have been sterilized under the 1972 law. Some of them are now asking for compensation. The head of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Ulrika Westerlund, welcomed the change, and declared that if the government took the initiative in granting damages, her organisation would not launch a lawsuit. Two hundred thousand kronor (US$31,000) per person would be a "fair sum", she said.

The law has been an embarrassment to in famously progressive Sweden. However, attempts to repeal it last year were blocked by opponents. The Swedish parliament finally adopted a law last (northern) autumn banning forced sterilization. It was supposed to come into effect on July 1, but the administrative court's decision came first.

Almost forgotten in the international protest against the sterilization of Swedes who wanted to change their sex are the 63,000 “socially unfit” women who were sterilized between 1936 and 1976. It is believed that about 90% of them signed a consent form, but between 6,000 and 15,000 did not. In any case, the quality of the consent was often dubious. The government sterilized prisoners, the mentally ill, people with learning difficulties, the poor, epileptics, alcoholics and women of "mixed racial quality". For some women sterilization was a condition of release from prison or custody of their children. 

Similar eugenics laws were in force in the US, Canada and other European countries – including, of course, Nazi Germany.

While Sweden has borne the brunt of criticism for forcing transsexuals to be sterilized if they want their sex changed on legal documents, more than a dozen other European countries have the same policy, according to Mother Jones magazine.

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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