How the Buck v. Bell case approving sterilization of so-called imbeciles affected 60,000 persons in the U.S. in 1920s

Michael Eli Dokosi December 05, 2019
Buck v. Bell case via

If laws govern conduct, it then applies that when authoritarian people get into power, they will most certainly enact laws which are draconian.

The Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t have said it better when he noted: “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

One of such unjust laws played out in the Buck v. Bell case. Regarded as one of the notorious decisions of the Supreme Court, where its 1927 judgement in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes upheld the involuntary sterilization of a woman deemed “feeble-minded” with the chilling justification that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

“With only one dissent (Mr. Justice Butler), the Supreme Court rejected Carrie Bell’s arguments that this practice violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. (The Eighth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”) Although Buck v. Bell has never been overturned, state statutes such as the one upheld in Buck v. Bell have been repealed, and its reasoning has been undermined by a subsequent Supreme Court decision striking down a law providing for involuntary sterilization of criminals.

“During the early to mid-1900s, dehumanization of people with developmental disabilities was widespread, due largely to public support for “eugenics.” Eugenicists believe that the human race can be improved by controlling reproduction as a way of “cleansing” the human gene pool of negative or less desirable traits found in “less desirable” people, particularly those with developmental disabilities, mental illness or those who were considered ‘immoral’ or had criminal histories.”

In the early 1900s, Dr. Henry Goddard claimed heredity was a primary determinant of cognitive and moral disabilities setting off the Eugenics Movement.

“The first state sterilization law was passed in Indiana in 1907 to prevent “…the procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists.” By the end of the 1970s, most states had repealed their sterilization laws. In the early years of the 21st century, Virginia, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Georgia, and Minnesota, apologized for passing these laws in the first place.

In the early 1900s, the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and the Feeble-Minded ordered residents to be sterilized but when it was made clear to him that he will bear liabilities, the move was halted but in 1924, the state passed legislation that allowed residents to be released from the institution on the condition that they were sterilized first.

“Carrie Buck was a 17-year-old woman who became pregnant as a result of rape and her foster parents had her committed to the Colony where her mother was institutionalized. Both women were judged to be “feebleminded” and promiscuous, primarily because each had given birth to a child without being married. After Carrie’s daughter, Vivian, was born, the superintendent recommended that Carrie be sterilized. Carrie’s child, Vivian, was also judged to be “feebleminded” following a cursory examination by a social worker when she was seven months old.

“The landmark Buck vs. Bell decision was rendered on May 2, 1927, at the height of the Eugenics movement. It was one of the first times that the federal courts intervened in a case involving the rights of people with developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, in this case, the outcome further limited the rights of people with disabilities by excluding them from the Constitutional protections provided by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Buck v. Bell paved the way for 30 other states to enforce such laws. As a result, more than 60,000 men, women and children in the United States were sterilized without their consent from the 1920s through the mid-1970s.”

The Eugenics agenda also affected people of color. And when one sees how the whites with power treated poor whites, it leaves few in doubt as to how many Blacks were eliminated from the 60,000 figure. A remnant till today is the number of abortion clinics in Black neighbourhoods.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: December 5, 2019


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