A Victim of Sweden’s Pursuit of Perfection

www.galtoninstitute.org.uk, formerly known as the British Eugenics Society (

Watching David Coleman

The co-founder of Migration Watch wishes to persuade us he is the victim of a smear campaign. But what about his views on eugenics?


Oxford university students have challenged demography Professor David Coleman. Coleman is co-founder of the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch, and a long-term member and sometime office-holder in the Eugenics Society and its successor the Galton Institute (thus renamed because the word eugenics, unsurprisingly, shocks).



“Up until 1976, a large number of people were sterilised in Sweden under the authority of the sterilisation laws in force at that time. The formulation of those laws and the manner of their practical application were partly characterised by a racial hygiene perspective and a belief in eugenics which were prevalent among many policy-makers, researchers and physicians during the first half of the 20th century in Sweden, as in other countries. Many of the people who were sterilised fell victim to this belief, long since firmly rejected by the Swedish society.

It is of great importance that the persons who at that time were sterilised against their own will or on the initiative of a third party should receive compensation, even though the State is under no formal obligation to pay such compensation. Proposals should be put forward with regard to compensation for the persons affected and the principles to apply to such compensation and the way in which handling procedures and decision-making in matters of compensation are to be organised.”



A Victim of Sweden’s Pursuit of Perfection


As a teen, Maria Nordin was declared ‘genetically inferior’ and sterilized. Half a century later, her country confronts the suffering of thousands at hands of state-sponsored program.


GAVLE, Sweden — No one could have known, of course. But the view all these years from Maria Nordin’s balcony has been a bittersweet reminder of the life she so much wanted but was never allowed to have.

The blessing is that her failing blue eyes–at the center of her awful story that began 54 years ago–now prevent her from seeing more than a few yards away. The playground five stories below, with children dangling from tire swings and mothers trading neighborhood gossip, mercifully is beyond her sight.

Sometimes I just sit there on the balcony,” said Nordin, 72, who uses a magnifying glass and bifocals to fill in her favorite crossword puzzles. “I carry a hatred that never leaves my heart. I have tried to let my hatred go, to melt it down. But it isn’t possible for me.”

In 1943, at age 17, Nordin had her ovaries removed on the instructions of the headmistress and consulting physician at a reform school for girls. In the parlance of the time, she was said to suffer a “genetic inferiority” that, in the interest of the Swedish welfare state, was best not passed on to offspring.

A lackluster student, Nordin had fallen hopelessly behind in her studies, and although a school report described her as “kind and obedient and nice in appearance,” doctors said her family had a history of alcoholism, promiscuity and mental illness.

In hindsight, it seems implausible that no one bothered to check her eyes; Nordin, who had no glasses, says she could barely see the blackboard. Instead, the school doctor classified her as “feebleminded” and “unable to raise children.” The National Board of Health concurred, and Nordin became one of 1,327 Swedes sterilized that year under the country’s then 8-year-old sterilization program.

She only recently came forward with her agonizing secret. Her disclosure, coming late in life as she battles cancer and loneliness, is part of a growing public examination in Sweden of the country’s well-documented but little-scrutinized sterilization program, which was abandoned only in the 1970s after 62,888 state-sponsored procedures.

Last week, the Swedish government took the unusual step of creating a national commission to examine the history of the program and to devise a compensation plan for its victims, only a handful of whom have received any damages. It is the first acknowledgment by the government that the program, although legal, was wrong, and the admission is likely to result in an official apology to the estimated 20,000 victims still living.

“I’ll never forget when I was called into the headmistress’ office,” Nordin said. “I was aware of it well before. I hid in the basement bathroom crying all by myself. I was thinking of killing myself, and I have been thinking of it ever since. But I never wanted to give them the satisfaction of getting rid of me.”

Newfound Soul-Searching

Inspired by a series of articles in Dagens Nyheter, the respected Stockholm daily newspaper, the newfound soul-searching among government officials and ordinary Swedes has spread to other countries as well.

In the past week, sterilization programs in Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Belgium and the former Czechoslovakia have come under new review, even though the policies were legal, largely noncontroversial at the time and pursued by mostly democratically elected governments.


Many U.S. states have records of similar practices, including California, where 4,310 patients at the Sonoma State Home were sterilized between 1919 and 1943. The first modern sterilization law in the world was passed in 1907 in Indiana, and the first recorded “eugenic sterilization”–a vasectomy justified on claims of genetic inferiority–was performed in 1899 at the Jeffersonville State Prison in Indiana.

But what makes the Swedish situation different and somehow more appalling, historians say, is that the sterilizations were not restricted to hardened criminals or the severely mentally retarded already confined to institutions.

By the 1950s, the most common candidate in Sweden was a “socially inferior” or “exhausted” woman seeking an abortion. Although all but the earliest sterilizations were required to be voluntary, targeted men and women were often coerced into agreement. In Nordin’s case, sterilization was made a condition of her release from school.

“These acts were barbaric,” said Health and Social Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom, who has become a leading critic of Sweden’s practices but whose ministry just last year rejected Nordin’s request for compensation. “We should call things by their right name. Today, of course, we strongly condemn these acts, and they can never be defended.”

History professor Gunnar Broberg, who co-wrote a book in 1991 on sterilization in Sweden, said changing public attitudes toward the program reflect a general shift here and elsewhere toward individual rather than collective rights.


About grdflynn@yahoo.com

Journalist - Newsweek, Gothamist, City Limits, The Villager, etc. Tracking the rise of nationalist movements in Europe since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York. Twitter: https://twitter.com/gerdflynn?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
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