By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As many as 2,000 people forcibly sterilized under a past North Carolina program should be compensated $50,000 each, a panel voted on Tuesday, the first time a state has moved to pay victims of a discredited human selection program.
North Carolina has 1,500 to 2,000 living victims of the program, meaning that up to $100 million could be paid out in compensation, said Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, a state agency.
The five-member task force voted 3-2 in favor of the $50,000 figure. The two dissenting members supported a floor of $20,000, Fuller Cooper said.
Governor Bev Perdue said she backed the compensation proposal and creation of a permanent exhibit "so that this shameful period is never forgotten."
Fuller Cooper said the vote marked the first time a state had gone beyond apologies and taken steps to compensate victims.
Nearly 7,600 people, mostly women, were sterilized from 1929 to 1974 under a "eugenics" program aimed at improving society by weeding out people seen as undesirable such as those convicted of crimes and the mentally handicapped, according to a task force report in August.
About 40 percent of those sterilized were non-white, and some victims were as young as 10, the report said. The largest number of procedures were in Charlotte's Mecklenberg County.
Eugenics is a belief that the quality of the human population can be improved by either discouraging people with genetic defects or undesirable traits from having children, or encouraging those with desirable traits to have more children.
Most states abolished their eugenics programs after World War II but North Carolina's peaked from 1946 to 1968, leaving it with more surviving victims than other states.
The state legislature abolished the program in 1977. Involuntary eugenics laws were repealed in 2003.
A North Carolina House of Representatives study committee created in 2008 urged compensation of $20,000 for each surviving victim. The legislature declined to fund it.