Thursday, June 28, 2018

Why Buck v. Bell was not an Anomaly (Part II)

The Court upheld Buck v. Bell despite the fact that seven state laws were previously struck down by their Supreme Courts for violations of cruel and unusual punishment, due process, and the equal protection clause. Carrie Buck did not have a chance. Even though she was not truly “feebleminded” she was made out to be a “low-grade moron”. Carrie was also made out to be a prostitute because she had a child out of wedlock. However, the truth was she was raped but this was never introduced into evidence. Carrie’s defense attorney was hired by the prosecution and worked in cahoots with them to strengthen the case against her. Her case was test case meant to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Carrie was never given the chance to defend herself. In fact, not a single witness was called in her defense. Carrie’s six month old baby was declared “unfit” and “feebleminded” for the benefit of the case. After all, if Carrie gave birth to one feebleminded child the odds were high she would give birth to more defective children. Expert witnesses testified against Carrie and her siblings without ever meeting with her or her family. Finally, Justice Holmes’ preconceived bigoted and prejudicial views put the nail in the coffin. As Justice Holmes declared “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” This statement by Holmes was false for a few reasons. First, Carrie and her family were not diagnosed as imbeciles (in the intellect hierarchy of idiot, imbecile, and moron developed by eugenicists – Carrie and her mom were considered morons which is higher intellect than imbeciles). Carrie was taken out of school after sixth grade where she had average marks and was never held back. Second, Carrie’s eight month old baby was never diagnosed as having abnormal intellect (just as being below average). Holmes used one precedent, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, to defend his opinion. Jacobson allowed mandatory vaccinations of children. Families could, however, opt out of the vaccination if they paid a modest fine. Holmes also defended his argument by saying if government can “call upon the best citizens for their lives” then the government can sterilize humans. Jacobson and the military draft are much different than mandatory sterilization and anyone can attest to that: a vaccination and most enlisted persons see no injury to their bodily functions, whereas sterilization is automatic bodily harm. Holmes did not even try to explain why Carrie Buck’s liberties should be violated and rebuke the Court’s Meyer and Pierce decisions just 4 and 2 years earlier which established the right to a family. Holmes would later say that his five paragraph opinion gave him “great pleasure” because it allowed him to speak a harsh truth about defective humans. Holmes’s Buck opinion was the worst in the Court’s history because Holmes’s opinion shows his hate and distain for others. At least in other terrible Supreme Court decisions the majority opinion tries to justify their decision without subjecting the losing party to degrading, humiliating, and hateful rhetoric. The media, science, politicians, feminist, and elitist across the country had an overall favorable view of the Buck v. Bell decision.

After Carrie was sterilized and set free from the institution, she lived a hard life. She married twice and had a hard work ethic cleaning homes, working crops, washing dishes, and doing what she needed to do to survive. She wrote the head of the clinic (Dr. Bell, who sterilized her) routinely after her release because she wanted to see how her mother (Emma) was doing since she was confined to the same institution. Carrie was by no means stupid, her letters were coherent and she discussed future plans. She read the newspaper daily and cared for her spouses, mother, and stepsister (Doris who was also sterilized at the institution). Her daughter, Vivian, died when she was in second grade. Vivian was said to be an average student at the time of her death. Carrie and Vivian may have had below average intellect, but they were not stupid. The entire case about Carrie and her child being “feebleminded imbeciles” was conjured up with no proof and of course it was not hard to prove when the other side could not defend themselves from the charges.

By the 1930s there were over 3,500 institutions sterilizing patients across the country. Twenty-Eight states had passed eugenics legislation for mandatory sterilization. It is estimated that well over 250,000 people were sterilized in the United States because of the Buck v. Bell decision. European countries followed the American lead to start their own sterilizations of defective persons: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, and of course Germany. Germany modeled its sterilization laws and programs after those in America and sterilized at least 375,000 so called “defectives”. There is one thing a vast majority of sterilization victims had in common: they were poor. Eugenics was an excuse to sterilize any poor person regardless of intellect or health defects and Carrie Buck was a prime example of this behavior. Ironically, the United States would put German leaders of their eugenics programs on trial for war crimes after World War II. Accused Germans used the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Buck v. Bell opinion unsuccessfully for their defense. All that being said, the United States was hypocritical because they were sterilizing citizens well past World War II into the 1980s.

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