Harry Clay Sharp (1870-1940)
Harry Clay Sharp was a surgeon who performed one of the first recorded vasectomies with the purpose of sterilizing a patient. Sterilization is the practice that makes a person unable to reproduce, and vasectomy accomplishes that by severing the vasa deferentia, the sperm-carrying tubes in the male reproductive system. Historically, sterilization procedures have varied in techniques, goals, and risks, but Sharp’s method of vasectomy allowed restriction of a patient’s reproductive functions without significantly affecting other bodily functions. Historians have associated Sharp’s use of the procedure, primarily on prison inmates, with eugenics, a movement with the goal of bettering humans via selective reproductive practices. With vasectomy, Sharp was able to sterilize people whom he did not deem fit to reproduce. Beyond simply pushing forward a new surgical method of sterilization, Sharp’s political advocacy led to the use of his technique as a method of eugenicist control over human reproduction, especially in Indiana.