In 1927, the US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell set a legal precedent that states may sterilize inmates of public institutions. The court argued that imbecility, epilepsy, and feeblemindedness are...

In 1927, the US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell set a legal precedent that states may sterilize inmates of public institutions. The court argued that imbecility, epilepsy, and feeblemindedness are hereditary, and that inmates should be prevented from passing these defects to the next generation. Go to the following website and read the details of this case:

http://embryo.asu.edu/pages/buck-v-bell-1927

Answer the following: In your opinion, what would be the outcome if the case of Buck v. Bell were argued today? Fully support your opinion.

Asked on by kanhimack

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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If the Buck vs. Bell case were to be argued today, I don't think Bell would have won and legal sterilization of inmates been allowed. In the Buck vs Bell case in 1927, the Supreme Court ruled that inmates of public institutions can be sterilized provided they are proven imbecile, epileptic and feebleminded. These traits were thought to be hereditary and the ruling was supposed to prevent the spread of these undesirable traits in society. If the same case were to be argued today, the following points can be made against legal sterilization:

1) Authenticity of the claim: The ruling was based on the premise that Carrie Buck was feebleminded and a moral delinquent. However, there was no valid proof of that—in fact, historian Paul Lombardo found that based on school reports of Carrie and her daughter, it cannot be concluded that they were feebleminded; rather they had adequate grades.

Also, whether intelligence can be measured by a single IQ test is also debatable.

Additionally, the hereditary nature of feeblemindedness and delinquency is questionable and discards the idea that evolution and personal choices may make a big difference.

2) Ethics: Another strong issue against eugenics is ethical. Is it ethical to deny a person the right to bear or father children? How do we decide who should be sterilized, and are there quantitative measures available for that?

The morality of the choice is under contention here and human rights activists would most likely also join against this decision.

3) Measurable characteristics: Feeblemindedness and moral delinquency are qualitative terms, and we need quantitative terms (which unfortunately do not exist, at least not with a very high degree of accuracy and confidence) to assess these characteristics. In the case of Buck vs Bell no such parameters were measured.

4) Loss of genetic diversity: Sterilization of an individual removes the genetic diversity the person would have contributed to the population. Also, sterilization for presence of these traits gives them the designation of disease, which is incorrect.

5) Media attention: Given the reach of the media these days, such a case can get global publicity within a few minutes and human rights groups everywhere in the world can band against the proponents of sterilization. This was absent when the case was originally argued.

Another change is the attitude towards human rights and advances in medical science and human outlook, which has made treatment of a number of these traits (to some extent) possible. 

Hence, if contested today, I believe that the result would be the opposite and sterilization would not be permitted.

Sources:

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