Cases & Stories of Interest

Blog posts and court cases posted by Tcherneshoff Consulting, Inc. Court Cases posted are ones that we think are interesting and have help shaped the lives of people with disabilities. Tcherneshoff Consulting, Inc. is an Americans with Disabilities Act consulting firm based in north Alabama.

Buck vs Bell - A Case Regarding Sterilization

Buck vs Bell is an old case (you can read about other court cases we've been discussing here), but it is an important and interesting one. In the 1920's, there was a young teenage girl named Carrie Buck who became pregnant out of wedlock. Her biological mother was an inmate at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded for supposedly being feebleminded, a prostitute, and having illegitimate children (although she was married to the father of her children when sent to Virginia Colony). 

To shorten the story, Carrie's adoptive parents were not pleased with having a 17-year old daughter with a child, so they had her give the child up for adoption and sent her to be with her mother at Virginia Colony. Virginia Colony was looking into sterilization for the feebleminded saying that positive eugenics encouraged reproduction between people with ideal genetics, whereas production between people deemed disabled or socially inferior (immigrants, interracial marriages) was negative and needed sterilization involved to help prevent the "situation". As bad as it sounds, it gets worse.

So the lawyer on the case advocating sterilization, Bell, testified that Carrie's mother, Carrie, and Carrie's daughter were all behind, saying that Carrie's daughter was not crawling correctly for a child of her age. He likened sterilization to compulsory vaccination laws, saying that it was in the best interest of everyone. In the Supreme Court's decision sterilization was ruled legal. 

"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... Three generations of imbeciles are enough."  

Carrie was the first to be sterilized along with 8,300 Virginians following her. Later, when a man named Paul Lombardo who was writing a book on the subject put in some time to research, he found that Carrie and her daughter both received adequate marks in school and her daughter was also even on the Honor Roll. He also learned that Carrie's pregnancy was not due to her promiscuity as the court stated, but that her foster mother's nephew raped her (which she confirms in an interview with him before she passes away). 

The scary thing about all of this is even though sterilizing the "feebleminded" against their will or knowledge is now frowned upon, this court case has never been overturned. Read the entire story here: http://embryo.asu.edu/pages/buck-v-bell-1927 and here: http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/themes/39.html (the latter has links to pictures of the people involved and the paperwork at the bottom)