Buck v. Bell and Beyond: A Revised Standard to Evaluate the Best Interests of the Mentally Disabled in the Sterilization Context

Although the general right to privacy is well settled in constitu-tional jurisprudence, the contours of the right to privacy are ever-changing. Maura McIntyre delves into one of the more contentious offshoots of the right to privacy—sterilization of the mentally disabled. For over a century, courts have granted petitions for sterilization of the mentally disabled. As the eugenics movement faded, however, new rationales for sterilization arose. More concerned with the individual rights of the mentally disabled, modern courts have applied various standards to evaluate petitions for sterilization.Unfortunately, a reliable judicial approach to petitions for sterilization is still lacking. Consequently, the results across the country have been in-consistent and, in many cases, unjust. McIntyre analyzes the various ap-proaches that courts have taken to evaluate petitions for sterilization. Considering the ramifications of each approach, McIntyre recommends a “revised best interest” inquiry to best assure the protection of the mental-ly disabled. In the end, the recommendation seeks to bring justice and consistency to this overlooked, yet important, area of law.

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