1 minute read

Buck v. Bell: 1927

Other Applications Result From Buck V. Bell

Laws similar to the Virginia statutes were passed in 30 other states, leading to the forcible sterilization of more than 50,000 people, including Carrie Buck's sister Doris.

Harry L. Laughlin, author of the model sterilization act adapted by Aubrey Strode for Virginia, made his draft available to state and foreign governments, and his model became Germany's Hereditary Health Law in 1933. In appreciation, he was awarded an honorary degree from Heidelberg University in 1936. After World War II, defending the forcible sterilization of 2 million people, lawyers for Nazi war criminals cited this law and pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, had declared such laws constitutional.

Buck v. Bell has yet to be reversed by the Supreme Court. In 1973, Roe v. Wade guaranteed women the right to make their own decisions concerning abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. The decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, balances the interests of the state and the woman and finds in favor of the woman's right of privacy. Nonetheless, citing Buck v. Bell, Justice Blackmun specifically denies "the claim … that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases."

Kathryn Cullen-DuPont

Suggestions for Further Reading

Cushman, Robert F. Cases in Constitutional Law, 6th ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Smith, J. David and K. Ray Nelson. The Sterilization of Garrie Buck: Was She Feebleminded or Society's Pawen. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon Press, 1989.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Buck v. Bell: 1927 - Virginia Approaches Its Courts With A "solution", Carrie Buck As A Test Case, Supreme Court Reviews Case