Friday, July 31, 2015

Buck v. Bell and the Pseudo-Science of Eugenics


 Eugenics as a whole, is a large realm, in which a blog post, wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface. I decided to pull out one story that i connected with, which explains how deep rooted the pseudo-science of Eugenics was in America in the 19th and  the beginning of the 20th century. A quick history about Eugenics just for a better understanding of the story. The idea of Eugenics has been around as long as we could tell, but the term eugenics came about through sir Francis Galton. He took Darwin's theory of evolution which was meant to be for plants and animal species and applied it to humans. The official definition of Eugenics is "the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)"

The story of Buck v. Bell is one of many at the time, when America was at war with immigration and racism, trying to produce a master race. Yes, America was responsible for the thoughts placed in Hitlers head. In the case of Buck v. Bell, which took place in Virginia, Carrie Buck was a pregnant 17 year old, daughter of Emma Buck an inmate at the Lynchburg colony for epileptics and feebleminded. Emma was rumored to have been a prostitute. unable to care for Carrie, Emma put Carrie into foster care at the age of 4. Carrie was adopted and went to school up to 6th grade. She did chores around the house, kept up with other children in her grade, and was considered a "very good" student. After she was done with school (6th grade was about as far as most poor Virginians got), she continued to live at home, helped out, went to church, etc. in the summer of 1923 her adopted family's the Dobbs' nephew, who was staying with them, raped Carrie. When it was apparent that Carrie was pregnant the family had her committed saying things like "she was peculiar since birth" and "she has always appeared feeble-minded". Carrie fit the description of what the government claimed was feebleminded. she was poor, her mother was incarcerated, and she was pregnant. After she gave birth to a daughter, the state decided it was in the best interest of society to have her sterilized, so she can no longer reproduce, and bring forth children into this world that will be like her, "feebleminded". 
 Before this all transpired, eugenicists and the like wanted to see if sterilization was a constitutional option, so when they heard of Carrie Buck, they decided to take it to trial. Using pseudo-scientific claims that were then considered scientific, they claimed due to her heredity, and being taken from a bad environment and placed into a good environment, that she could not change, therefore her children would be defective. the case ran from 1924 to 1927 when she was finally sterilized.  

Back then eugenics was a cure all. Positive and negative eugenics were the only options which were always intertwined. What makes Buck v. Bell stand out is this was the case that allowed states to perform forced sterilizations. forced sterilizations, on the belief that you were a strain on society, without any scientific proof other than the blood that runs through your veins. Furthermore, Americans believed it to be so because of the language and the conviction of eugenicists around the world. It was a witch hunt to find someone or something to blame for societies woes. If you were disabled, unfit, black, or native american, you were considered a problem to society, not because of an opinion but because eugenicist found a way to make it sound scientific. The research stage was through heredity, so they would go as far back as they could, and if one person was found to have any of those traits, you were then classified as such. This goes to show, although pseudo-science can be identifiable, it can be a dangerous weapon for the uneducated. The fact that all you need is some conviction and results that support your claim, is scary. As for Carries child, it was a girl, who Carrie named Vivian. She died of infection at the age of 8. She was an honor student.   

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