For a country that loves to chide itself for past transgressions, I’m amazed we don’t hear more often about the eugenics movement. Here’s an exhaustive Web site dedicated to this forgotten bit of history that left over 64,000 Americans forcibly sterilized.
The idea behind eugenics was simple: Certain people weren’t as “well-born” as others and their maladies should be removed from the gene pool. Some of the era’s most-renowned scientists propagated the benefits of eugenics — which many saw as a natural progression from Darwin’s theory of evolution. Hitler took eugenics to its logical conclusion.
A 17-year-old girl named Carrie Buck was the first person forcibly sterilized in the U.S. Here‘s what happened:
Sociologist Arthur Estabrook, of the Eugenics Record Office, traveled to Virginia to testify against Carrie. He and a Red Cross nurse examined Carrie’s baby Vivian and concluded that she was “below average” and “not quite normal.” Relying on these comments, the judge concluded that Carrie should be sterilized to prevent the birth of other “defective” children.
The forced sterilization was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of the state’s right to take away a human being’s ability to reproduce. Because they thought the children would be stupid. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Of course, this seems totally abhorrent today. But why not back in the 1920s? The answer seems clear to me: Because men in white lab coats and black robes told us that it was the right thing to do. Indeed, the moral thing to do. They were intellectual and enlightened. The misgivings of the public could be dismissed as ignorant rabble from the masses.
Sound familiar? In my heart of hearts, I know that it’s wrong to kill a human being by depriving her of food and water. I don’t care what some doctor, scientist or judge tells me.
Perhaps future generations will look back and wonder what we were all thinking.