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Taking liberties

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 24 September 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:817
  1. C Elliott

    “Three generations of imbeciles is enough,” declared Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Buck v Bell (1927), upholding the involuntary sterilisation of a young woman who had given birth to a daughter after being raped. Eugenics programmes were in place in 27 American states in the 1920s, and it is estimated that 70 000 people were sterilised. Virginia's Lynchburg Colony sterilised 8300, some as late as 1972, on the grounds that they were unfit to reproduce. Often these were children from rural, uneducated white families in the Blue Ridge Mountains who were diagnosed as “feeble minded,” a catch-all phrase for vague, supposedly inheritable mental deficiencies.

    Stephen Trombley's documentary The Lynchburg Story does a creditable job of linking the history of the Lynchburg Colony to the broader eugenics movement in the United States. The problem with …

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