“..there are men who regret that we cannot hear our Handel exactly as Handel meant us to because, unfortunately, we no longer castrate boy singers” ― Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Jazz Scene
Castration is always a fun subject. I remember being horrified in law school circa 1995 that castration was still on the books as a penalty. It was brought to mind again by a Washington State Supreme Court’s 2023 request to our legislature that they may wish to repeal some unconstitutional statutes. They suggested that castration was possibly “unconscionable, or at least questionable.” 2023 Requested Legislation to Repeal Unconstitutional Statutes. Which thankfully was signed April of this year and becomes effective in 4 days. https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5087&Initiative=false&Year=2023.
For a bit of history, they are repealing RCW 9.92.100 Prevention of Procreation.
Whenever any person shall be adjudged guilty of carnal abuse of a female person under the age of ten years, or of rape, or shall be adjudged to be an habitual criminal, the court may, in addition to such other punishment or confinement as may be imposed, direct an operation to be performed upon such person, for the prevention of procreation.
On its face, this seems like a punishment reserved to the most extreme, depraved of criminals–victimizing females under 10 years of age. But then we look at Habitual Criminal, RCW 9.92.090.
Every person convicted in this state of any crime of which fraud or intent to defraud is an element, or of petit larceny, or of any felony, who shall previously have been twice convicted, whether in this state or elsewhere, of any crime which under the laws of this state would amount to a felony, or who shall previously have been four times convicted, whether in this state or elsewhere, of petit larceny, or of any misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor of which fraud or intent to defraud is an element, shall be punished by imprisonment in a state correctional facility for life.
So the reality was that you could castrate someone for commiting four shoplifts. Which is horrible of course but its over…done, they repealed it. Why am I still talking? Well, not only because I’m greatly relieved that they finally saw to do away with this horrific and antiquated law, but because it does remind us of the broader subject, seemingly an ongoing and recurring scourge, of eugenics, both in politics and in other fields of the law. Just 5 years ago the ACLU was defending the rights of the disabled to be free of forcible castration. https://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/washington-state-may-make-it In fact, most states do allow some form of forced castration. https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/%C6%92.NWLC_SterilizationReport_2022_Appendix.pdf.
Sadly, it is not only Nazi Germany with an unhealthy history of eugenics. In fact, it was well established in the United States long before Washington Govenor Hart signed it into law back in 1921. https://www.historylink.org/file/22489.
And equally regretful, we suspect that such extreme meassures of law are reserved for the less privileged of our nation. Here is an article on how this state power was abused to the detriment of native american women. https://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/centers/crrj/zotero/loadfile.php?entity_key=QFDB5MW3
Likely, we did not conceive that the lack of privilege infringed on the right of parenthood itself.
We should always be mindful that the power and authority of the state may not, likely will not, fall equally upon all of our membership. Thus, it should be with great reservation that we empower others to decide the very lineage of humanity.