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Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell

"Three Generations, No Imbeciles" is a chronicle of the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, which approved laws allowing states to perform surgery in order to prevent "feebleminded and socially inadequate" people from having children.The Buck case was the first and only time in Supreme Court history that an intrusive medical procedure - involuntary sterilization - was endorsed as a tool of government eugenic policy. It is doubly notorious for the court's decision, written by renowned Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Holmes' declaration that "Three generations of imbeciles are enough" led to lifelong infamy for Carrie Buck and her family.

Paul A. Lombardo's startling narrative is the only fully documented account of the Buck case ever written. He was the last person to interview Carrie Buck before she died, and the book incorporates material he discovered over more than twenty-five years of research. Items such as Carrie Buck's medical records, the honor roll grade book of her daughter, Vivian, private correspondence of the lawyer who was named to represent her, and the only existing photos of all three generations of the Buck family support the conclusion that the Buck case was a fraud, initiated to hide the shame of a poor girl, pregnant after she had been raped.

Although the Buck decision set the stage for more than sixty thousand operations in the United States and was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments, it has never been overturned. This book tracks the career of Buck in American memory, as a potent symbol of government control of reproduction and a troubling precedent in the human genome era.