Continuing Legal Education

Continuing Legal Education Session

April 11, 2007 Supreme Court Courtroom, Indiana State House

3:00PM - 4:15PM


"Three Generations of Imbeciles are Enough:" Reflections on 100 years of Eugenics in Indiana

Warren Smith was the subject of the 1921 case, Williams v. Smith, in which the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against the 1907 statute.

In 1907, Indiana adopted the first eugenical sterilization law in the world, paving the way for similar laws in more than thirty other states and nearly a dozen countries around the world. The pioneering statute was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921 in William v. Smith, but a new law was enacted in 1927 following the U.S. Supreme Court endorsement of eugenic sterilization in the Virginia case, Buck v. Bell, in which Oliver Wendell Holmes declared: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

From 1907 to 1974 Indiana sterilized some 2,500 institutionalized patients, while more than 65,000 endured operations nationally. Attention was focused on sterilization again in 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Eugenics propaganda Court upheld judicial immunity for an Indiana judge whose ex parte order let to the sterilization of a 15 year old girl in Stump v. Sparkman.

Eugenics propaganda

This presentation involved a lawyer, a bioethicist and a physician. The panelists discussed the still-controversial topic of involuntary sterilization in historical context and also reflected on how new insights from the Human Genome project have affected our assessment of it.

Biography of CLE Panelists

CLE Flyer

Images from the Session

Court Cases