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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Suzanne M Shultz, MA (York Hospital)
Description: This book about the Buck v. Bell Supreme Court decision and its lasting implications for eugenic sterilization policies broadly describes the U.S. eugenics movement, its history and prime movers, the creation of a "Model Sterilization Law" in Virginia, and the adoption of numerous state laws permitting sterilization surgery. The events surrounding the Buck v. Bell test case, the players, the testimony, arguments, decisions, appeals, and reactions are carefully considered. The title is drawn from the majority opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the 1927 case.
Purpose: The author points to recent genetic advances, notably the Human Genome Project, as his impetus for writing this book. He notes, "The recent triumphs in genetic science announced alongside revelations and recriminations about eugenics — and happening alongside ongoing challenges to reproductive rights - suggest that we have much to learn about Buck v. Bell. This book is the starting point in our lesson." He adds, "Buck is regularly mentioned in books on law, science, and medical history, but has never been adequately explained in a well-documented book of its own. This book tells that story, a notorious - and still open - chapter in U.S. history."
Audience: Medical practitioners, students, and historians; scientists; lawyers; legislators; ethicists; public health workers; social workers; behavioral health practitioners; general historians; and the public will appreciate the value of this work. Paul Lombardo, PhD, JD is professor of law at the Georgia State University College of Law and is widely published on eugenics and involuntary sterilization surgery, including the Buck decision.
Features: "The core of the book is in the middle chapters where creation of the Virginia sterilization law is detailed and the stage is set for the Buck v. Bell test case. Five chapters are devoted to the conduct of the trial, the appeals in Virginia and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Two additional chapters summarize the reactions to the decision and the subsequent lives of the people involved. Notably worthwhile is the history of the eugenics movement, the biographical sketches of its leaders, and their research methodologies. Connections between and exchange of research procedures and philosophy with the Nazi regime prior to and during World War II and Germany's implementation of eugenic sterilization on a massive scale comprises a chapter. The use of U.S. eugenic publications and application of its established legal foundations which were employed in defense of activities of Nazi physicians at the Nuremberg trials is disclosed in another chapter. Setting aside for the moment the broader issue of eugenics, the trial of Carrie Buck is portrayed as a miscarriage of justice, the result of the failure of her defense attorney's fiduciary duty. The author builds his case in the clear and unemotional style of the law. His assessment, however, is not without passion. Carrie Buck's attorney did not fail "simply because he was incompetent; Whitehead failed because he intended to fail." Buck v. Bell mocks the right to a fair trial and certainly violates the spirit of fair play. The outcome of the eugenics movement may have been quite different had Virginia's "Model Law" embodied in Carrie Buck failed to receive the judicial stamp of approval thus erasing Holmes's infamous words "Three generations, no imbeciles." "
Assessment: There is a relative paucity of information about Carrie Buck and the Buck v. Bell trial in both book and journal literature and certainly none that provides as much detail as this one does. For this analysis alone, this book is highly recommended. The eugenics material is a bonus.