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Who’s sorry now?

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Sometimes it seems politicians would rather suffer a root canal than utter the words, “We’re sorry.”

Take, for example, fearless leader George Bush, who on a recent trip to Africa made the bold move of condemning slavery but stopped short of actually apologizing for this nation’s slave-holding history.

Now it’s Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s turn to choke on the “A” word.

In the past year, governors from Virginia, California, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oregon have publicly apologized for their states’ past practice of sterilizing so-called “feeble-minded” people, sexual deviants and others deemed unfit to procreate.

Michigan, which ranks fourth among the 30 or so states that performed forced sterilizations, subjected more than 3,700 people to this practice from about 1910 through the 1960s, according to Alexandra Minna Stern, associate director of the Center for the History of Medicine and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan.

Stern says that the forced sterilization or “eugenics” movement grew in the first half of the 20th century in Michigan. The state Legislature passed a sterilization law in 1913, only to see it declared unconstitutional five years later. A more carefully crafted statute enacted in 1923 resulted in sterilizations being performed at state institutions and prisons, including the University of Michigan Hospital.

Stern believes that Granholm should offer atonement. Acknowledging past medical abuses, she contends, helps prevent future ones.

“It also can provide a space of healing and reconciliation for those who were victimized by sterilization,” says Stern, who hopes that a public apology will encourage victims to come forward. Most eugenics research relies on historical documents, “but we don’t have much of a human face,” she says.

According to Granholm’s press secretary Liz Boyd, “This is not something that the governor has contemplated at this time.”

Give it some thought, Gov. We’ll call you back — soon.

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