When Enough is Enough
Carrie Buck had a feeble mind. At least that’s how Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described her in Buck v. Bell. In fact, Carrie was the daughter of a feeble-minded mother and the mother of a feeble-minded daughter. Unfortunately for Carrie, in 1924 Virginia passed a law that allowed the state to sterilize citizens with mental defects for their own health and for the welfare of society. The law was challenged, and eventually made its way to the Supreme Court where Justice Holmes wrote the majority opinion. He conlcuded the opinion:
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 let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
The Supreme Court held the law to be constitutional.
On its face, I think most of us would say that this is appalling. But doesn’t Justice Holmes have a point? The federal government can demand your life for the defense of the contry, so can it not also demand certain tubes from your body so as to not make an unnecessary burden on society?