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Former Home Of Eugenics Research Now Warns Of Modern Eugenics Ideas

"If we are not to repeat the errors of the past, we will need to examine modern eugenics visions with intellectual rigor."
--Steven Selden, a eugenics historian at the University of Maryland

Former Home Of Eugenics Research Now Warns Of Modern Eugenics Ideas
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 13, 2002

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK-- On May 2, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law giving the state permission to sterilize thousands of its citizens considered "unfit". The ruling in Buck vs. Bell made legitimate the concept of eugenics -- the idea that society could be improved by controlling the numbers of people with certain disabilities. Over the next five decades an estimated 65,000 Americans in 30 states were sterilized without their permission. It is also believed that Adolph Hitler used the Virginia law as a model for his own efforts to get rid of "imperfect" members of his "Aryan race" during the Nazi era.

Last month, the state of Virginia erected a roadside marker in Charlottesville, home town of Carrie Buck, the plaintiff of the Supreme Court case. Carrie and her mother, Emma, were committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded and were considered "feeble-minded" and "promiscuous" because they had children out of wedlock. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., gave the Court's decision, including the infamous phrase, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Also last month, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner officially apologized for his state's part in the eugenics movement.

The American Eugenics Movement has been discredited and the sterilization laws have all been withdrawn. Today, however, technological breakthroughs are giving scientists and medical professionals the tools to do much of what eugenics supporters were attempting.

Now the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which had been the center of eugenics research in the early part of the 19th century, is working to make sure that the history of eugenics is not repeated in the future.

"If we are not to repeat the errors of the past, we will need to examine modern eugenics visions with intellectual rigor," said Steven Selden of the University of Maryland. Seldon is a eugenics historian who spoke at a eugenics conference sponsored by the lab.

Related resources:

Newsday offered the following article about Cold Spring Harbor's new role, run Thursday by the Salt Lake Tribune:
"Laboratory Examines Its Role in Eugenics Movement"

David Micklos, Director of the Dolan DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, recently wrote this article:
"None Without Hope: Buck vs. Bell at 75"

For those readers who have not done so, I suggest checking out the Website for the Laboratory's Eugenics Archive on the American Eugenics Movement:

Nearly half of those Virginians who were involuntarily sterilized lived at what was called the "State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded". This was the name given to the institution now known as Central Virginia Training Center. Doctors at CVTC officially sterilized thousands of people between 1927 and 1956, although it is suggested that the practice continued there through 1972.

CVTC is still the largest institution in Virginia, housing 650 people with mental retardation. Forced sterilizations at the facility are mentioned briefly on the "History" page of the CVTC website:

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