Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell

Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell

3.5 2
by Paul A. Lombardo
     
 

ISBN-10: 0801898242

ISBN-13: 9780801898242

Pub. Date: 08/31/2010

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press

"Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Few lines from Supreme Court opinions are as memorable as this declaration by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the landmark 1927 case Buck v. Bell. The ruling allowed states to forcibly sterilize residents in order to prevent "feebleminded and socially inadequate" people from having children. It is the only

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Overview

"Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Few lines from Supreme Court opinions are as memorable as this declaration by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the landmark 1927 case Buck v. Bell. The ruling allowed states to forcibly sterilize residents in order to prevent "feebleminded and socially inadequate" people from having children. It is the only time the Supreme Court endorsed surgery as a tool of government policy. Paul Lombardo’s startling narrative exposes the Buck case’s fraudulent roots.

In 1924 Carrie Buck—involuntarily institutionalized by the State of Virginia after she was raped and impregnated—challenged the state’s plan to sterilize her. Having already judged her mother and daughter mentally deficient, Virginia wanted to make Buck the first person sterilized under a new law designed to prevent hereditarily "defective" people from reproducing. Lombardo’s more than twenty-five years of research and his own interview with Buck before she died demonstrate conclusively that she was destined to lose the case before it had even begun. Neither Carrie Buck nor her mother and daughter were the "imbeciles" condemned in the Holmes opinion. Her lawyer—a founder of the institution where she was held—never challenged Virginia’s arguments and called no witnesses on Buck’s behalf. And judges who heard her case, from state courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court, sympathized with the eugenics movement. Virginia had Carrie Buck sterilized shortly after the 1927 decision.

Though Buck set the stage for more than sixty thousand involuntary sterilizations in the United States and was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments, it has never been overturned. Three Generations, No Imbeciles tracks the notorious case through its history, revealing that it remains a potent symbol of government control of reproduction and a troubling precedent for the human genome era.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801898242
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
08/31/2010
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
173,312
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Expert Witness 1

1 Problem Families 7

2 Sex and Surgery 20

3 The Pedigree Factory 30

4 Studying Sterilization 42

5 The Mallory Case 58

6 Laughlin's Book 78

7 A Virginia Sterilization Law 91

8 Choosing Carrie Buck 103

9 Carrie Buck versus Dr. Priddy 112

10 Defenseless 136

11 On Appeal: Buck v. Bell 149

12 In the Supreme Court 157

13 Reactions and Repercussions 174

14 After the Supreme Court 185

15 Sterilizing Germans 199

16 Skinner v. Oklahoma 219

17 Buck, at Nuremberg and After 236

18 Rediscovering Buck 250

Epilogue: Reconsidering Buck 267

Acknowledgments 281

App. A The Supreme Court Opinion in Buck v. Bell, by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. 285

App. B Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act, 1924 288

App. C Laws and Sterilizations by State 293

Notes 295

A Note on Sources 355

Index 357

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