Carrie Buck and the old eugenics, the new eugenics and Alfie Evans

By Dave Andrusko

Carrie Buck

About once a week my search for “Today in History” turns up a reminder, positive or negative, of something that pro-lifers should carefully ponder.

Ninety two years ago today, in the infamous Buck v. Bell, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law that allowed the forced sterilization of people to promote the “health of the patient and the welfare of society.”

Written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the 8-1 decision, permitted an innocent woman by the name of Carrie Buck to be involuntarily sterilized.

Carrie Buck’s “crime”?

She was supposedly “feeble-minded.” As Social Darwinist Justice Holmes pronounced, in one of the ugliest declarations ever from our nation’s highest court, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” referring to Carrie, her mother, and her infant daughter.

Three years ago the Washington Post’s Charles Lane reviewed Adam Cohen then new book, “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.”

As Cohen shows, everything had to go wrong in the legal system to produce this horror, and everything did, starting with a crooked local process that declared Buck intellectually inferior based on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy — an indicator, state doctors averred, of promiscuity, which connoted feeblemindedness.

In fact, she had been raped by her foster parents’ nephew; the couple then sought to cure this embarrassment by having Buck sent away to the state colony for her “kind.”

There is a particular poignancy that the anniversary of the Buck v. Bell, decision should come just a few days after the anniversary of the death of 23-month-old Alfie Evans. The elite of the elite in Great Britain—the trial judge, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and, of course, the heralded Alder Hey Children’s Hospital—all concluded Alfie Evans was “better off dead.”

(His parents’ wishes counted for absolutely nothing. They could not even persuade the hospital to allow Alfie to die at home.)

Of course, the hospital, its attorney, and the judge were too adroit to put it that baldly. Rather maintaining Alfie on his ventilator [removal of which virtual guaranteed he would die] was not in his “best interest.”

Mr. Justice Hayden, the trial judge, went further. He announced that if they did not take Alfie off his ventilator, it could compromise his “future dignity.”

The connection to Carrie Buck and “American Eugenics”? Lane wrote

At its peak, in the years before, during and just after World War I, the pseudo-science of “eugenics” was a national fad, almost a mania.

Advocates were not only or even especially right wing; state sterilization laws emerged first in the North and West, and many progressives embraced “racial hygiene” along with pure food and drug laws or urban sanitation.

Actually “The ‘right wing’ was not the driving force behind eugenics” at all, as Wesley J. Smith explained. “Progressives were, and those in the ruling class”:

Indeed, the progressive elite and ruling class of the era almost unanimously and enthusiastically embraced the pernicious notion with authoritarian zeal that human beings could be invidiously divided between the so-called “fit” and ”unfit.”

Eugenics was also that era’s scientific consensus. Those who opposed it were branded as anti-progress, perhaps even, anti-science.

We see similar agendas at work today; in the sex selection and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis practiced in the assisted reproductive industry; transhumanism’s push for developing “post human” genetic enhancement technologies, eugenic abortion of fetuses testing positive for Down syndrome and dwarfism, the push for infanticide of babies born with disabilities, among other supposedly progressive causes.

Wesley said it all in his conclusion:

These “new eugenics” ideas will end up as tyrannical as the original version was. Here’s why: All eugenics–new and old–spring from the same toxic well–denial of human exceptionalism and the intrinsic and equal dignity of each and every one of us.

Once that dark vision is embraced, the weak come into mortal danger.