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May 21, 2012


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Ediberto Roman

Great essay Al! I hope to post some related info. on similar efforts in Puerto Rico during this period.


I would also recommend looking into the Steinach operation, a partial and sometimes complete vasoligation undertaken with the assumption that it would produce mental and physical benefits to the patient. The operation was very popular among the wealthy in the 1920s and 1930s, notable recipients included Sigmund Freud and William Butler Yeats. It was marketed primarily to the public as an anti-aging panacea. There are also examples of doctors in asylums in Indiana I believe in the 1910s in which sterilization was purported to have a calming effect on inmates. This is not to say that the primary goals were the ones you described, but to note that there was an element of therapeutic value beyond simply not "burdening" the victims of sterilization with children.

Jennifer Hendricks

It isn't so shocking that Roe v. Wade and Buck v. Bell would be cited together. Roe itself cited Buck for the same proposition about the state's power to regulate. The citation appears at the end of this critical paragraph (which I have condensed):

"On the basis of elements such as these, appellant and some amici argue that the woman's right is absolute .... With this we do not agree. ... The Court's decisions recognizing a right of privacy also acknowledge that some state regulation in areas protected by that right is appropriate. ... In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past."

The other citation for this argument is to Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), upholding mandatory smallpox vaccination. Jacobson, however, merely confirmed a criminal conviction for refusal to be vaccinated. I don't think it countenanced forcible vaccination.

Alfred Brophy


Thanks for this. The part of Blackmun's opinion you quote acknowledges some limits on the autonomy of individuals; how much was in debate. The upshot of Roe is that individuals have broad autonomy over procreation decisions. Roe did not license broad state interference with personal autonomy; in fact, it limited state interference. That is, Roe did not provide support for the broad police power claimed in Moore. I wouldn't have thought Roe would be a useful case to cite, since it limited the state's power. Moore should discuss it, obviously, because it suggests a limitation. But cite it approvingly as though it was entirely consistent with the outcome? That's surprising -- or, as I said in the post, even astonishing.

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