Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You Know, It's a Choice

We're having a serious conversation in sociology class at the moment about the ethics of sterilizing the "mentally retarded" (clarification: his word, not mine). It's a commonly proposed solution, currently manifested in welfare policies that encourage women to be on birth control (because "mentally retarded" tends to become "the poor" in policy discussions). Not to have yet another Supreme Court reference this week, but here's a fun bit of trivia from the Court's history:

(Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes -- greatest moustache in Supreme Court history)

In 1927, Buck v. Bell upheld a Virginia law that allowed for forced sterilization of mentally challenged individuals. The law encompassed everyone from the blind, deaf, homeless, and poor. These were the "wayward" of society, and eugenics seemed like a justifiable scheme when your goal was to preserve the human race. "Buck" was an 18 year old resident of the State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded, who came from a long line of mentally challenged individuals (at least 3 previous generations). She appealed under the 14th amendment, that her right to equal treatment was violated by the superintendent who ordered her to undergo a salpingectomy. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes had this to say in the majority opinion:
"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. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Anyone want to complain about too much empathy on the court now?

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