Essay Example on Carrie Buck v James Hendren Bell Superintendent of State Colony for Epileptics








BUCK v BELL Title and Citation Carrie Buck v James Hendren Bell Superintendent of State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded Argued April 22 1927 Decided May 2 1927 2 Facts of the Case In 1924 Virginia passed a law on forced sterilization of the feeble minded people Wanting to test the viability of the new regulation Dr Albert Sidney Priddy head of the boarding school for epileptics and feeble minded sent a petition to the board of directors with a proposal for sterilization of a patient named Carrie Buck Carrie Buck at the age of 18 had a mental age of about 9 years Priddy pointed out that she represented a genetic threat to society As Priddy put it she demonstrated incorrigible character by giving birth to an illegitimate child In this regard the foster family sent her to a boarding school for the feeble minded Later it was found that Carrie s pregnancy was not a result of debauchery In the summer of 1923 she was raped by her nephew s adoptive mother and sent to a boarding school to save her family's reputation

The decision created a solid legal basis for laws on sterilization The case began as Buck v Priddy but Priddy died of cancer before the case could be tried and John Bell replaced him 3 Issues Is the right to reproduce a fundamental liberty Does compulsory sterilization of the unfit including the intellectually disabled for the protection and health of the state violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution 4 Decisions Holdings In this case the right to reproduce as a mentally ill person is not a fundamental liberty Accordingly Virginia s state law permitting involuntary sterilization of a mentally ill person does not violate the person s substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment In addition the law does not violate Buck s equal protection rights Although the law is not applicable to individuals outside of a mental institution the law is sufficiently tailored to meet its policy goals The court confirmed the law establishing mandatory sterilization of such individuals 5 Reasoning Rationale Chief Lawyer for Appellant Irving Whitehead Citing the Fourteenth Amendment he argued that sterilization deprived Buck of due process the legal requirement that the state must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person by violating her bodily integrity and of equal protection by targeting only a portion of the state s feebleminded population He suggested that the procedure s benefits to the patient remained unproven and frankly speaking could have been a smokescreen covering a in order to hide the government's intention to rid itself of those citizens deemed undesirable according to its standards Chief Defense Lawyer Aubrey E Strode Virginia s law did not impose cruel and unusual punishment The law afforded inmates due process of law It represented a valid exercise of police power which stemmed from the state's obligation to protect the public's health and safety

For Carrie Buck sterilization would be a painless procedure that benefited her quality of life while also benefiting society at large Buck was given reasonable notice of the procedure appointed a guardian protected by the oversight of a state board and afforded the right to appeal Mr Justice HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court The court argued that imbecility epilepsy and feeblemindedness are hereditary and that inmates must be avoided from passing these defects to the subsequent generation The challenge to the law before the Court was considered a will to change and challenge the regulation itself not to compliance with the safeguards contained therein The State can require sacrifices from citizens up to and including their very lives it is not unusual to require something less than the sacrifice of their life on behalf of the public good We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices often not felt to be such by those concerned in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence 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 Society would be better served by preventing reproduction by members of society most likely to produce progeny dependent on the government

The process for overview of a sterilization order well considered the rights of these whom the nation centered for such processes Even as not all citizens had been equally subject to the potential to have their reproductive capacity forfeited the State may want to reasonably direct its interest and attention to those deemed unfit to reproduce and thereby conserve necessary resources for other prerogatives Three generations of imbeciles are enough 6 Separate Opinions Justice Butler dissent but did not file a dissenting opinion 7 Analysis Buck v Bell is the case of the US Supreme Court the decision on which confirmed the legality of the statute on the forced sterilization of inferior people including the mentally retarded for the purpose of safety and health of the nation The decision created a solid legal basis for laws on sterilization Although many states had eugenic laws before their application and their existence were virtually unaffected except for the state of California After the adoption of this decision in many states active work has begun to introduce new and renew old eugenic laws The volume of sterilization in the United States grew from 1927 to Skinner v Oklahoma case which created the grounds for preventing sterilization By 1963 sterilization laws had almost never been applied in practice Virginia s law on sterilization was abolished in 1974

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