The sterilization law was designed to deal with hereditary diseases and persons carrying such diseases. The opening words of the law proclaimed its content: "Any person suffering from a hereditary disease can be sterilized if medical knowledge indicates that his offspring will suffer from severe hereditary physical or mental damage. " The law defined a person "suffering from a hereditary disease," and thus a candidate for sterilization, as anyone afflicted with one of the following disabilities: congenital feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, folie circulaire (manic-depressive psychosis), hereditary epilepsy, hereditary St. Vitus' dance (Huntington's chorea), hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, severe hereditary physical deformity, and severe alcoholism, on a discretionary basis.
Official statistics collected by the Reich Ministry of Interior show that during 1934, the first year the law was in force, 32,268 men and women were sterilized against their will. This figure was still relatively low, because the capability to perform sterilizations was limited; the number increased during the following years. In 1934, persons judged feebleminded made up the largest group sterilized: 17,070, or 52.9 percent. The next largest group, 8,194, or 25.4 percent , consisted of persons diagnosed as schizophrenic, followed by 4,520, or 14 percent, of persons suffering from epilepsy. The group of the blind—201, or 0.6 percent—and that of the deaf—337, or 1 percent—was much smaller. But these categories could all be expanded. The emphasis on the congenital nature of the disability was often disregarded, and intervention was often expanded to include persons whose disability was not severe; thus sterilization was not always confined to persons who were blind or deaf but was also applied to those with a more limited impairment in vision or hearing.
A 1935 amendment to the sterilization law attempted to close the loophole involving pregnancies that began prior to sterilization. The amendment authorized abortions performed to prevent births of children with hereditary disabilities; this would apply not only if the mother was disabled but also if the mother was healthy but the father suffered from a hereditary disability. Thus the law requiring sterilization for the so-called unfit had been expanded into a law also permitting abortion for the excluded group. At the same time, the amendment restated the prohibition under heavy penalties of sterilization and abortion for persons judged healthy. The expanded law was rigorously enforced. For example, in May 1940, the public health office in Feldkirch, Upper Austria, ordered an abortion for a pregnant young woman because "of concern that her offspring might suffer from congenital deafness."
The next logical step in erecting a legal structure designed to exclude those judged biologically deficient was the passage of a law regulating marriages. The Nuremberg racial laws, prohibiting marriages and any sexual contact between Jews and Germans, was enacted in the middle of September 1935. One month later, on October 18, the German government enacted a similar law directed against the disabled: the Law for the