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Equal Treatment for People with Mental Retardation

Equal Treatment for People with Mental Retardation

Having and Raising Children

Martha A. Field, Valerie A. Sanchez

ISBN 9780674006973

Publication date: 10/30/2001

Engaging in sex, becoming parents, raising children: these are among the most personal decisions we make, and for people with mental retardation, these decisions are consistently challenged, regulated, and outlawed. This book is a comprehensive study of the American legal doctrines and social policies, past and present, that have governed procreation and parenting by persons with mental retardation. It argues persuasively that people with retardation should have legal authority to make their own decisions.

Despite the progress of the normalization movement, which has moved so many people with mental retardation into the mainstream since the 1960s, negative myths about reproduction and child rearing among this population persist. Martha Field and Valerie Sanchez trace these prejudices to the eugenics movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They show how misperceptions have led to inconsistent and discriminatory outcomes when third parties seek to make birth control or parenting decisions for people with mental retardation. They also explore the effect of these decisions on those they purport to protect. Detailed, thorough, and just, their book is a sustained argument for reform of the legal practices and social policies it describes.


  • A comprehensive examination of the reproductive and parental rights of mentally retarded citizens. After presenting an overview of mental retardation and of relevant public policy and case law, the authors detail current debates about procreation and parenting among the mentally retarded and put forth proposals to reform the existing system...An important resource for legal and medical professionals, care givers, educators, and social service providers.

    —Deborah Anne Broocker, Library Journal


  • Martha A. Field is Langdell Professor of Law at Harvard University.
  • Valerie A. Sanchez is Assistant Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution at the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law. She was formerly Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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