1927 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Buck V. Bell

The theory of eugenics was brought to light in 1883 by a European scientist and it spread from Europe to the United States of America by the end of the century. Following to legal flaws, a remedy to the situation was created by designing a model of eugenic law that underwent review by professional legal experts. In an effort to find out if the law would surpass a legal challenge if faced with one, Dr. Priddy filed a petition in which Carrie Buck was to be sterilized. She was 18 years of age at his institution and according to his claims, she was mentally aged 9 and she was a genetic representation of threat to the entire society. Results of his research on the family of Buck were that her mother aged 52 years and mentally aged 8 had recorded cases of prostitution and immoral behavior during her lifetime. Amongst three other children birthed without proper knowledge of how to parent them, Carrie Buck was adopted and after being school for a period of five years she was proven to be habitual. She later on gave birth to an illicit child. When her adopted family felt incapable of taking care of her any more, they committed her as feeble minded to the state colony. Later on it was recognized that her pregnancy was not a result of her own immoral behavior but rape by a nephew related to the adoptive mother.
After Priddy’s death, he was succeeded by Dr. John Hendren Bell on the case. When the case was moved to the Supreme Court of the United States it was argued that the petition to sterilize Buck violated the right of all adults to procreate. In addition, they argued that the petition was violating the clause of equal protection since this would be treating a person in a different situation in a way not justifying equal treatment. These arguments were based on the fact that the now passed sterilization law was for the supposedly feeble minded admitted in certain mentioned institutions in the state. This relieved generalization of all the institutions in the state as well as the patients who were not in any institution in the state. The Supreme Court of the United States later on accepted that Buck, her mother and her then born baby were promiscuous as well as feeble minded and therefore it was in the best interests of the state to sterilize her.
The decision of the Supreme Court on the Buck v. Bell case was written by Justice Holmes, Oliver W. Jr. whereby the court made a ruling that the state permitted obligatory sterilization of unfit people including those with mental illnesses. This was meant to be a measure protecting the health of the state however it was highly perceived as a backing of unenthusiastic eugenics. An operation procedure was conducted Carrie Buck subjecting her to a salpingectomy and later on she was released from the institution on parole.
Eugenics is the attempt, in the scientific field, to try and advance the human race through elimination of supposedly defective genes from the gene pool as well as improving the population’s genetic composition. It is also a social philosophy that acts as a promoter of improving hereditary traits in humans through upholding the reproduction of more desirable traits and people too. Eugenic movements have spread fast worldwide since their discovery through promotions by governments as well as institutions and individuals who have influence over people. With the adoption of various policies of eugenics, programs like birth control, segregation and sterilization were made possible. However much the discovery turned over and carried the scientific field a step forward, it was also a way used to discriminate those individuals that the court might have deemed feeble minded. For instance, in the case in focus eugenics theories were used to forcefully subject Carrie Buck into a compulsory sterilization procedure that denied her any more ability to procreate. As mentioned earlier, it would not only strip her of her citizen right to procreate as an adult but also the state would not be treating her fairly. As a matter of fact, Buck was the victim of immoral behavior when she was raped in summer by a related nephew to the mother who had adopted her. After the occurrence she committed herself in an attempt to save her adoptive family’s reputation. This would have given the Supreme Court of the United States more reason for the benefit of the doubt on whether to allow for the petition to push through or not. It would have given them more reason to consider the decision they made because even based on the accusations made on Buck and the research conducted on her family, there was no enough proof to pass the petition. Therefore it is clear that eugenics theories and policies were used in this case to implicate a woman who did not really deserve the verdict she received.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the court’s ruling he stated that it was preferably better for the world to prevent the unfit from continuing those of their kind by use of appropriate means rather than wait and later on execute the offspring. This was meant to bring out the clear meaning that it was comparatively better to sterilize those proven to be feeble-minded to stop the genetic continuity to the next generation and then sterilize them as well. Since it was medically proven that these specific genes were transferred to off springs birthed by people with the condition, it would mean that an entire lineage of people with mental illnesses and supposedly feeble minds would be created. That is why Oliver Wendell was advocating for sterilization of the individuals as soon as they were proven to be feeble minded so as to stop the lineage from continuing through genetic transfer during procreation.
Soon after the case of Buck v. Bell eugenic sterilization laws started being legitimized in the United States of America as was the intention. Many other states including those that already had sterilization laws being enforced started adopting and implementing the law or improving their constitutions to better detail this law. Due to the massive adoption of the sterilization law, research was conducted on its enforcement especially in the United States. Following to this it was concluded that the key reason why the sterilization was not practiced as much even with legal enforcement was because the physicians ordering the sterilization procedures were in fear of prosecution by the patients they would advocate for their operation. This in turn reduced the intensity of the sterilization law as physicians would not want to be the ones giving the green light for performance of the sterilization procedures. Creation of new model laws with the ability of withstanding public and constitutional analysis was also attempted with the aim of further enforcing sterilization. As a result of the Skinner v. Oklahoma case that created enough public scandal and legal dilemma with the intent of discouraging the implementation of sterilization laws, they were almost fully wiped off the constitution.
As of early 2011, discussions of compensating the many victims of sterilization in the United States are underway. The 75th anniversary of the unlawful Buck v. Bell decision dates back to May 2, 2002 as the case has not yet been overruled. Almost 65,000 Americans had been forcefully sterilized by the year 1979 and a public apology was recently passed in the state of Virginia stating that the eugenics movement was a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved (Head, 2008). The study of genetics and especially in the field of heredity should not be used as a sufficient reason to predict or rather justify decisions made and imposed on victims like Carrie Buck. People should very well understand that as much as science serves a major role in overall development it also has its flaws. The assumption that results of scientific experiments are 100 percent true should be curbed as well. These beliefs other than advancing development also propel unjust decisions on victims like Buck. In the courts, facts should be used to judge an individual and not scientific tests performed on them. This is because it is beyond doubtful doubt that not every trait in an individual is passed on to the next generation. Therefore genetics should not be used as the grounds for legal decisions and especially not legal decisions that advocate for practices that involve tampering with the biological set up individuals.

References
FSWP. (2012). Challenging West Virginia’s Forced Sterilization Law. Justice for Sterilization
Victims Project. http://www.forcedsterilization.org
Head, T. (2008). Forced Sterilization in the United States. Civil Liberties.
http://www. civilliberty.about.com
Kevles, D. (1998). In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Havard
University Press.
Lombardo, P. A. (2010). Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and
Buck v. Bell. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rhapsodyinbooks. (2011). May 2, 1927 – The U.S. Supreme Court Decided Buck v. Bell. Legal
Legacy. http://legallegacy.wordpress.com

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