Eugenic Sterilization in New Zealand: The Story of the Mental Defectives Amendment Act of 1928

  • Hamish G. SpencerEmail author


New Zealand has had a reputation for being a social laboratory. Yet New Zealanders were apparently ambivalent about embracing eugenics, notably never enacting an explicitly eugenic sterilization law. Nevertheless, the 1928 Mental Defectives Amendment Bill originally contained a clause providing for sterilization on eugenic grounds. Hamish Spencer outlines the history of the drafting of this clause and its subsequent failure to gain parliamentary approval, before suggesting possible reasons for this course of events. He notes that this narrative must also explain how close the sterilization clause came to being enacted. This closeness illustrates a general point, that the passage or failure of sterilization legislation is an oversimplifying dichotomous view of different countries’ eugenic histories.



Funding for this work came from the Allan Wilson Centre, which, along with the University of Otago’s Centre for Research on Colonial Culture, also sponsored the meeting at which this work was first presented. Permission to use restricted documents lodged with Archives New Zealand was granted by the Director of Mental Health, Ministry of Health. Jennifer Barrer gave permission to use the photograph of Nina Barrer. I would like to thank Diane B. Paul, John Stenhouse and Oliver Sutherland for helpful suggestions on the MS.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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