proof that times have changed?

jan02×25x2.jpg buck v. bell, may 2, 1927         

in this court decision, the state of virginia ruled that sterilization practices were legitimate for “feebleminded” and “promiscuous” individuals. this ruling, legalizing compulsory sterilization – an intrusive surgery which halts reproductive abilities –  was in effect until it was overturned in 1974. 

(compulsory sterilization programs are government policies which attempt to force people to undergo surgical sterilization. in the first half of the twentieth century, many such programs were instituted in many countries around the world, usually as part of eugenics programs intended to prevent the reproduction and multiplication of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.)

 c-buck.jpg  –> carrie buck, a woman who was admitted to a state colony for the “feeble-minded” (a catch-all for mentally disabled individuals) became pregnant with a child, which was a result of being raped by her uncle. the pregnancy, sadly, was labeled an act of “immorality” by carrie. the state wanted to sterilize ms. buck without her will, and the issue was brought to court in buck v. bell.the ruling was in favor of the prosecution, and justice oliver wendell holmes was the presiding judge. in support of his argument that the interest of the states in a “pure” gene pool outweighed the interest of individuals in their bodily integrity, justice oliver wendell holmes argued:

we have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. it would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. it is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. the principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the fallopian tubes.

holmes concluded his argument with the infamous phrase:

three generations of imbeciles are enough.  

perhaps some of the current and future decisions made on the topic of genetic engineering  will have future generations wondering what the heck we were thinking, as i wonder what justice holmes & the virginia jury were thinking.   we get so excited about making a “better world” for ourselves that we sometimes forget the inherent rights each of us has been guaranteed in the bill of rights and our constitution. 

we should allow history to remind us to be wary. 

… the current play, “KIN, the trial of carrie buck” at the sundial theatre company explores the sad story surrounding ms. buck and the court’s ruling. it follows the account through her eventual sterilization – which was, horribly, without her full knowledge or consent. 

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