By Amy Shin, Copy Editor
The darkest tales of racial discrimination lie within the hospitals of rural Slovakia, where Romani women are forced into sterilization. This unethical medical practice has its roots in the thorny history of Czechoslovakia; the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC) first legalized financial incentives to Romani women in exchange for their sterilization in 1971. At the time, the Health, Labor, and Social Affairs Ministry justified this as an attempt to produce a “healthy population” by reducing the birth rate of Romanis.
This policy, at is core, was purely a means of racial persecution under the guise of social welfare, especially within the context of Czechoslovakia’s “pronatalist” stance. While non-Romanis were given financial incentives to birth children and boost the nation’s stagnating birth rate, Romanis were given financial incentives not to, further exploiting their low socio-economic status. This policy stripped Romanis of their civil liberties and suppressed their pursuit of happiness, implicitly affirming their status as “second class” or “degenerate” citizens. This practice only amplified with time — in fact, in 1988 alone, a total reward sum of 1.5 million dollars was given to Romani women for sterilization.
Although the financial incentives for sterilization formally ended in 1993 after the dissolution and transition to democracy of Czechoslovakia, there have since then been a plethora of cases wherein Romani women were coerced into sterilization. This was reportedly done through threats, misinformation, or without the informed consent of patients. In an interview by Al Jazeera News, some victims affiliated with the League of Human Rights NGO came forward to share their personal stories:
“I was pressured by a social worker… She threatened that the state would take my children away,” recounts Sona Karolova. “The social worker spitefully criticized me, saying ‘us Gypsies are accustomed to giving birth to a child every year for welfare to live off of.’”
“The nurse handed me a blank paper to sign on. I just did what she asked because I was in a lot of pain. I only found out what had happened because afterwards there was a scar on my abdomen,” says Natasa Botosova.
“I was totally misinformed. A social worker told me it would only be five before I can have children again, and that other women of the community already had [the procedure] done,” recounts Olga Jonasova.
“My first child was delivered by C-section. I was in pain. I was in such a state that I didn’t know what I was signing,” said Elena Gorolova. “The doctor told me that by sterilizing me, he had saved my life.”
Evidently, this malpractice must be rooted out not only because it not only devastates individual lives, but also entire Romani populations. These women face consequences beyond just the inability to bear children — they’re also shamed by their family and ostracized by their community because sterilization is seen as an emblem of impurity and immorality. Many victims have lost their husbands and suffered severe psychological and emotional damage.
These tales of gross discrimination and injustice highlight the importance of ethical decision-making by medical practitioners, governments, and citizens. Because moral standards are complex and highly variable by location, time, and context, the discussion around them must be louder and more vibrant.