Paul Lombardo's recent book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell, chronicles the history of state-sponsored sterilization over the course of the 20th century. As a historical endeavor, it is rich and rewarding, permitting the reader a broad understanding of the social, cultural and legal context for the case that inspired Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous quotation, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Lombardo's work masterfully ties the eugenics movement of the early 20th century to the broader policies informing the government's role in regulating reproduction .
Lombardo's book, which I originally picked up solely because of my interest in eugenics in the U.S., is so thought-provoking that the academic in me could not help but envision it as an ideal foundation for a semester-long class, with a week devoted to each of a number of themes expressly or inherently raised by the text. I took the bait, and have organized this essay into thirteen themes that struck me as particularly noteworthy and deserving of exploration. Of course, the book's value extends far beyond the academy, and I don't mean this organizational device to suggest that this book is intended primarily for classroom use. On the contrary, it is accessible to lay and professional audiences alike. Indeed, it is so smoothly written that one hardly notices how much one is learning while turning the pages.
Like Lombardo's book, this essay is neither fish nor fowl-it is neither a book review nor is it a course proposal. Although I have used Lombardo's book twice now as the central text for a semester-long seminar entitled "Government Regulation of Reproduction," this essay is less a syllabus than an exploration of the tangents that seem to emanate from Lombardo's historical tale. The themes upon which Lombardo touches may be grouped into three general categories : the state role in regulating fertility; gender, race, and class issues in fertility regulation; and contemporary reproduction-related politics as they pertain to human attributes. In the pages that follow, I describe each of these general categories, and present a taste of the various issues, themes, or meditations suggested by Lombardo's project.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Buck v. Bell: Thoughts Occasioned by Paul Lombardo's "Three Generations, No Imbeciles"
, 59 Legal Educ. 357
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/facpubs/43