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Lex Zwickau (1924) and Responses to It (January 1932)

In 1923, Gustav Boeters (1869-1942), a medical officer in Zwickau, revealed that he and other surgeons had been sterilizing the mentally handicapped without their consent. Seeking legal sanction for such practices, he publicized this model law in a number of newspapers and offered it to the government of Saxony for consideration. Although the law was not adopted, the medical profession continued to discuss the matter throughout the 1920s. In the early 1930s, when the Prussian government was drafting the Reich Sterilization Law, renewed concern emerged among clergymen who opposed eugenic practices. Martin Ulbrich (1863-1935), a retired pastor and former director of the Magdeburg-Cracow asylum, wrote to his friend and colleague Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (1877-1946), who ran a similar institution, and expressed his desire to speak out against Boeters’ ideas.

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A) Lex Zwickau

§1. Children who are deemed unfit for successful participation in normal elementary school instruction on account of congenital blindness, congenital deafness, epilepsy, or feeblemindedness should be subjected, as soon as possible, to an operation that leaves them unable to procreate. The organs needed for internal secretion should be preserved in the process.

§2. The mentally ill, the feebleminded, epileptics, and those born blind and deaf who are cared for in public or private institutions are to be sterilized before they are released or given leave.

§3. The mentally ill, the feebleminded, epileptics, and those born blind and deaf are allowed to marry only after they have been sterilized.

§4. Women and girls who have repeatedly given birth to children of indeterminate paternity are to undergo an examination of their mental state. If hereditary inferiority is determined, they are either to be sterilized or kept in closed institutions until the cessation of their fertility.

§5. Prisoners whose hereditary inferiority is beyond doubt shall be granted a partial remission of their sentences, upon request, after voluntarily undergoing sterilization. The legal procedure for serious sexual offenders will be regulated by a special law.

§6. The procedures can be carried out only by doctors who are trained in surgery and gynecology and have all the necessary auxiliary equipment at their disposal. The operation and follow-up treatment are free of charge to inferior people.

§7. The sterilization of full-value humans will be punished in the same manner as grievous bodily harm.

Dr. Gustav Boeters

Note: “Voluntary sterilization” was already customary in the Free State of Saxony in the twenties. – 1924? –

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