I just finished reading a book called A Merciful End. It was a very thorough and balanced historical walk-through of the euthanasia/eugenics movement in America, starting about in 1900. I’ll definitely need to do some more reading to get a better grip on some of the philosophies that shaped the movement, but I thought it did a great job of chronicling the movement.
I vaguely remember running across a reference to eugenics laws in America sometime in the last year or so, but this fuller accounting just blew me out of the water. Call me naive, but it hadn’t ever occured to me that there was a time not so very long ago that a large portion of the American public was in favor of laws mandating involuntary sterilization specifically targeting the mentally disabled and ill.
How can you possibly be so convinced of your own worth to think yourself able to proclaim that “three generations of imbeciles is enough”? Thank you, Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Buck v. Bell case. This declaration in an age where they used such clear-cut definitions of mental illness as “feeble-minded” as a catch-all for anyone just a little bit different. Wikipedia argues that there wasn’t anything wrong with Carrie Buck other than that she had been raped by her adopted mother’s nephew, that she was put into an institution to save her family’s reputation. That may or may not be true, but Holmes declaration is no less obnoxious either way. It makes me sick to think of it.
Check out this article by a U of Virginia prof giving a little more background on the Carrie Buck case.