Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell
Paul A. Lombardo
On L2L: December 8, 2017 (click to listen to the episode)
About the Book
“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Few lines from Supreme Court opinions are as memorable as this declaration by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the landmark 1927 case Buck v. Bell. The ruling allowed states to forcibly sterilize residents in order to prevent “feebleminded and socially inadequate” people from having children. It is the only time the Supreme Court endorsed surgery as a tool of government policy. Though Buck set the stage for more than sixty thousand involuntary sterilizations in the United States and was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments, it has never been overturned. Three Generations, No Imbeciles tracks the notorious case through its history, revealing that it remains a potent symbol of government control of reproduction and a troubling precedent for the human genome era. The 2009 winner of the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Creative Nonfiction History, Paul Lombardo’s startling narrative paints a different picture of Carrie Buck, the young woman from Virginia whose difficult life and family history became central to this case, and exposes the Buck case’s fraudulent roots and the dark side of American eugenics.
About the Author
Dr. Paul A. Lombardo is a lawyer and historian. He is a Regents’ Professor and the Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law, and from 2011 to 2016, he served as a senior adviser to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. Dr. Lombardo has published extensively on topics in health law, medico-legal history, and bioethics, and he is perhaps best known for his work on the legal history of the American eugenics movement.
In 2002, Dr. Lombardo sponsored an historical marker in Charlottesville correcting the record concerning the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in the case of Buck v. Bell, and in 2016 he sponsored the Carrie Buck Memorial Study Room at Georgia State Law. His advocacy has prompted official apologies for past eugenic policies in seven states.
In addition to his book Three Generations, No Imbeciles, he is the editor of A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era.