Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Law, Psychiatry, and the Treatment of Mentally Disordered People since 1845

From...

Treatment without Consent: Law, Psychiatry, and the Treatment of Mentally Disordered People since 1845

by Phil Fennell; Routledge, 1996

"The first had been California, which introduced a law in 1909, and where 8,504 of the 16,066 sterilisations done in the United States up to 1 January 1933 had been carried out; 6,999 on males and 9,067 on females. The Brock Committee considered that less use of these statutes had been made than was anticipated, blaming in part constitutional doubts which had only recently been resolved in the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell. 53 Carrie Buck had been chosen by Dr A.S. Priddy, the superintendent of the Lynchburg Colony, Virginia, to be the test case by which the constitutionality of the new Virginia sterilisation law would be determined. 54 Carrie’s mother had been suspected of prostitution and had herself been admitted to Lynchburg. Carrie had been admitted there following the birth of a baby daughter, conceived as a result of rape by the nephew of her foster parents. Although Carrie, her mother and her daughter were all described as ‘feeble minded’ there was no reliable evidence of this, and indeed her daughter would later appear on the roll of honour at her elementary school before her untimely death at the age of eight.

"In no sense could Buck v. Bell be described as a genuine challenge by Carrie Buck. The case had been manufactured by Priddy, and Carrie was represented by a lawyer member of the governors of the colony who was an ardent advocate of eugenic sterilisation. It was no surprise when, by an eight to one majority, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Virginia sterilisation statute. The case is remembered chiefly for the extreme remark of the eighty-six-year-old Supreme Court justice and leading legal theorist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, that ‘three generations of imbeciles are enough’, 55 particularly insulting since, in the light of subsequent evidence, it proved entirely false. Holmes would later remark that he felt that, with this decision, ‘I was at last getting to the principle of real reform’. 56 A challenge had been concocted which successfully clothed the policy of eugenic sterilisation in constitutional legitimacy for the next half century in the US, and it is estimated that 60,000-70,000 men and women were sterilised under state sterilisation legislation."

What do you make of this? Any chance there is a connection to today's efforts? Any chance there is something going on under the media hype?

Eugenics, maybe?

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