Question: To what extent did eugenicists have the constitutional right to sterilize and kill those who are "not fit" for society?

The Issue:external image States%20with%20eugenics%20laws.jpg

  • What is the controversy surrounding the issue?

    • Wanting to make the American people to be “fit”. Restricting the feeble-minded or the disabled from reproducing to prevent “unfit” genes because of their genes.
    • The goal of the movement was to create a superior white Nordic race, and to get rid of everyone else by identifying so called “defective” family trees, and subjecting them to sterilization programs.

  • Who does the issue affect?

    • Victims: poor white people from New England to California, immigrants from across Europe, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, Epileptics, alcoholics, petty criminals, the mentally ill, and anyone else that did not represent the blonde and blue eyed Nordic ideal the Eugenics movement glorified.

  • When did the issue become a part of the national dialogue?

    • In the 1920’s the American eugenics society was established. Because the fear of foreigners increased after WWI and the number of immigrants entering the country increased, Eugenics movement strengthened. The Americans felt threatened by the lower races and those below them.
    • By 1944, 30 states had sterilization laws in place.
    • Supreme Court ruled it was acceptable to forcibly sterilize people who are insane or “feeble minded”.

      external image eugenic-certificate.jpg

  • In what geographic area are people most affected?

    • Most people that were sterilized were from California.
    • Most that were affected were those in the states with the sterilization laws, like Virginia, where communities were filled with local feeble-minded people.

  • How has the issue united or divided people?

    • The issue divided the people by the "fit" and "fit". Those who were considered fit were more wealthy and lived in better communities, while those who would be considered unfit were usually poor, lived in poor neighborhoods, and were mildly retarded
      • people were divided by race, class, gender,etc.

  • How does this issue connect to the Constitution?

    • Some states do have the right to sterilize people deemed as unfit, but the problem is what is considered “crazy” or “feeble-minded”? How do they define “unfit”?
    • 14 Amendment- No person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without "due process of law". This means that adults have the right to procreate without being questioned or restricted, and this case violated that right. They also made the argument that the equal protection clause was being violated since not all similarly situated people were being treated the same.

Current standing of the issue:

  • Buck vs. Bellexternal image eugenics-carrie-buck.jpg

    • In 1927: The United States Supreme Court upheld a Virginia Statute that provided for the eugenics sterilization for people considered genetically “unfit”.
    • Carrie Buck and Emma (mother) were "feeble-minded" and promiscuous because they both gave birth to children without being wedlock.
    • Court’s decision delivered by Oliver Wendell Holmes included the infamous phrase, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough”. They concluded that Carrie Buck is the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring, and said to have her sexually sterilized.
      • By the Supreme Court upholding Virginia’s sterilization law, it led to similar laws being passed in 30 different states
    • Court case was flawed. Their accusations of being “feebleminded” were not a legitimate medical problem. There is no clinical meaning behind it.
Justice Holme's supported opinion supporting states' power to sterilize the "unfit" to protect public health and safety has never been overturned. SO technically, in the state of Illinois someone can come up to you tommorrow and make you get sterilized.

  • Nowadays

    • The issue nowadays is that there has been successful animal cloning, which has the potential to lead to human cloning in the future. With human cloning, it can raise expectations for a healthier population, but there are fears of this practice being abused. There is a debate on whether cloning should be used fr therapudic purposes, such as cloning a body part or organ, and some people believe that this undermines the dignity of human life and is a threat to human nature. This leads to a fear of some sort of eugenics being repeated and there with the power of states to make those laws, there is still a possibility that sterilization laws can be placed in certain states.

      external image hylan-morons1.jpg?w=510&h=749


  • Black, Edwin. War against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003. Print.

  • "EugenicsArchive." Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement. Web. 19 May 2011. <http://www.eugeni>.