Courts in the Classroom
Supreme Court of Indiana
Division of State Court Administration
30 S. Meridian Street, Ste 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dr. Elizabeth R. Osborn
Coordinator for
Court History and
Public Education Programs

Pho: 317.233.8682

Sarah Kidwell
Outreach Coordinator

Pho: 317.234.3055


Outstanding Public
History Project Award
from the National Council
on Public History

More Awards

Courts in the Classroom > Legal History Lecture Series > Reflections on 100 Years of Eugenics in Indiana Reflections on 100 Years of Eugenics in Indiana

"Three Generations of Imbeciles are Enough"


The Indiana Supreme Court held a live event regarding "Eugenics in Indiana" on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 3:00pm.

About the Event

This was originally a Free CLE Event sponsored by Courts in the Classroom, Legal History Series and the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education.

This Court-hosted event focused on issues relating to the history of eugenics laws in Indiana. A three-member panel was present to discuss issues regarding Eugenics which included: Paul Lombardo, J.D., Ph.D, Professor of Law, Georgia State University; Eric M. Meslin, Ph.D, Center for Bioethics, Indiana University School of Medicine and Peter Marcus, M.D., M.A., Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Archived Video

Photo Gallery


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 (the subject of the case, Warren Smith, is pictured at right), but a new law was enacted in 1927 following U.S. Supreme Court endorsement of eugenic sterilization in Buck v. Bell in which Justice Holmes declared, "three generations of imbeciles are enough." From 1907 to 1974 Indiana sterilized 2,500 institutionalized patients.

Attention was focused on sterilization again in 1978 when, in Stump v. Sparkman, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld judicial immunity for an Indiana judge whose ex parte order led to the sterilization of a 15 year old girl. This CLE course will involve a lawyer, a bioethicist and a physician who will discuss the still controversial topic of involuntary sterilization in historical context and also reflect on how the new insights from the Human Genome project have affected it.


  • Paul Lombardo, J.D., Ph. D [bio]
    Professor of Law, Georgia State University

    Paul Lombardo is Professor of Law at Georgia State University's College of Law. As a member of the core faculty at the Center for Law, Health and Society, he teaches course in Genetics and the Law, the History of Bioethics, Mental Health Law and the Legal Regulation of Human Research. Professor Lombardo received his A.B. from Rockhurst College (Kansas City), his M.A. from Loyola University of Chicago and both his Ph.D and J.D. from the University of Virginia.

    Professor Lombardo has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. He has published extensively on topics in health law, medico-legal history, and bioethics. He is coeditor of Fletcher's Clinical Ethics (3rd ed.). He has a longtime interest in the legal history of the American eugenics movement and his book The One Sure Cure: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell, will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Eric M. Meslin, Ph. D [bio]
    Center for Bioethics, Indiana University School of Medicine

    Dr. Eric M. Meslin is Director of the Indiana University Center for Bioethics, Professor of Medicine, and of Medical and Molecular Genetics in the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Professor of Philosophy in the School of Liberal Arts. He is also Assistant Dean for Bioethics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Dr. Meslin received his B.A. in Philosophy from York University (Toronto), and both his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Bioethics Program in Philosophy at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

    He came to Indiana University in July 2001 from the U.S. National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), where he had been Executive Director since 1998. NBAC was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, and was charged with advising the White House and the federal government on a range of bioethics issues including cloning, stem cell research, international clinical trials, and genetics studies. He has authored (or co-authored) more than 80 articles and book chapters, with most focusing on various topics in research ethics and health policy. He has been a consultant to the World Health Organization, the US Observer Mission to UNESCO, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and is a member of a number of advisory boards including the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Network (of which he is also chair of the Ethics Committee).

  • Peter Marcus, M.D., M.A. [bio]
    Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology

    Peter Marcus, M.D., is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. A graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Masters in the History of Medicine, Dr. Marcus is the clerkship director for the third year course in Obstetrics and Gynecology. One of his many duties is to teach a biomedical ethics course to the third year medical students. During these seminar sessions, the topic of Eugenics and Informed Consent are presented.

Indiana Eugenics: History and Legacy, 1907-2007

To mark the centennial anniversary of Indiana's eugenics legislation, a forum held on April 12, 2007 provided reflections on the legacy and relevance of eugenics history to current discussions on reproductive rights, applications of genetic science, and our best intentions to improve the lives of people in our communities.

Events sponsored by: Indiana University New Frontiers Grant, Program in Medical Humanities-Health Studies and Department of History, IU School of Liberal Arts, Herron School of Art and Design, Departments of Pediatrics and of Medical & Molecular Genetics, and the IU Center for Bioethics, IU School of Medicine.

Supporting Materials