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Denmark to investigate its involuntary sterilization program

August 29, 1997

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) _ Denmark has decided to conduct an official investigation into its onetime program of forced sterilization, a move the social affairs minister says should have been made a generation ago.

The announcement by Karen Jespersen comes as neighboring Sweden endures uncomfortable international attention in the wake of a newspaper series detailing that country’s forced sterilization of 60,000 people in 1935-76.

Although Sweden has been in the spotlight, Denmark actually started such a program six years earlier. Denmark was the first European country to enact involuntary sterilization, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten said Friday.

Of the 11,000 people sterilized in Denmark from 1929 to 1967, when the law on forced sterilization was eliminated, about half were done against the patient’s will, University of Copenhagen historian Lene Koch told the newspaper.

``No one knows how many and who are concerned. Therefore I have asked my staff to investigate so we can get a full picture of the extent and the consequences,″ Jespersen, the social affairs minister, was quoted as telling the newspaper Politiken.

``An investigation should have been conducted when the law was abolished,″ Jespersen said.

Sweden announced Thursday that an investigating committee will be appointed and is expected to take about 18 months determining how many were sterilized and whether those still living would be eligible for compensation.

Jespersen did not say how long the Danish investigation was expected to last or whether compensation would be considered.

Like Sweden and many other European countries, Denmark began its sterilization program in the grip of enthusiasm for eugenics, the belief in improving the human race by controlling breeding.

The theory was founded by Sir Francis Galton of Britain in the 1880s. It acquired popularity in the early half of the 20th century, when many nations, including the United States, sterilized people declared insane.

``In Denmark, eugenics was considered an obvious solution to huge social problems,″ Koch said.

The forced sterilization program in Denmark mainly was directed at people who were mentally handicapped, Koch said.

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