Free Republic
Browse · Search
Bloggers & Personal
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Can forced sterilization ever be ethical?
University of Oxford Blog ^ | February 22, 2011 | Alexandre Erler

Posted on 02/26/2011 12:53:34 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby

A British court still needs to decide whether to authorize the sterilization, at her mother’s own request, of a mentally disabled woman (see e.g. here and here). Reading only the headlines and initial paragraphs of the news entries devoted to the case, one might become worried that we are seeing here a resurgence of an abhorrent practice that gained much favour in the first half of the 20th-Century, in countries like Germany or the United States: i.e. the compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded for eugenic purposes. However, it is important to look at the particulars of this case in order not to be misled. The 21-year old woman, referred to as P, is pregnant with her second child, and her mother (“Mrs. P”) says that they “can’t carry on supporting more and more children”. She also said that after the birth of her second child her daughter would have “a complete family” (a girl and a boy). But her mother is worried that she will soon fall pregnant again, in which case the child will have to be given away for adoption – something that her daughter, she says, is unable to understand, yet an outcome that would cause her much distress were it to happen.

Reacting to the case, bioethicist George Annas, from Boston University, commented that “this is eugenics if they are doing this because she’s mentally disabled. This decision needs to be made based on the person’s best interests, not the best interests of society or her caregivers.”

I agree with Annas that if the court were to decide to have this young woman sterilized for purposes of eugenics, this would be morally wrong. Yet this should not be taken to mean that the simple fact that some procedure amounts to eugenics is enough to make it wrong. Selecting one embryo over another for implantation in a case of IVF on the grounds that the former has a much lower probability than the latter of developing Tay-Sachs disease might count as a eugenic procedure, but I do not see that it is morally problematic. The problem with forcibly sterilizing mentally disabled people for eugenic purposes is not simply that it is eugenics, but rather (among other possible issues) that it constitutes an unjustified infringement on these people’s reproductive rights.

Annas is also right that the court’s decision should take into consideration the young woman’s best interests. I am less sure, though, that this should be the only relevant consideration: shouldn’t the interests of society as a whole carry at least some weight, as John Harris suggests? If it were in that woman’s best interest to have as many children as possible, even if most them ended up being adopted out (say, because she hugely enjoyed having babies but was not too upset about having to part with them soon afterwards), should she be allowed to have all those children no matter what burden this placed on the social services? Yet we do not need to provide an answer to that dilemma, which is based on rather extravagant assumptions. In actual fact, it seems that it is in this woman’s best interests not have further children, at least for the time being. And this consideration would seem more important than the need to uphold Ms P’s reproductive rights. Given the evidence available, it seems plausible to think that her mother does have her daughter’s best interests at heart and that she is accurately representing how things will likely turn out if she keeps having pregnancies in the future.

Of course, before being able to reach a decision, the court will have, first, to ascertain that Ms P really lacks mental capacity; and secondly, to inquire into the possibility of alternative procedures of a less radical sort (notably because they would be reversible) that could bring about the same benefits as full-fledged sterilization. If it were effective enough, it seems to me that a contraceptive implant would be a more attractive solution in Ms P’s case.

In order to show that sterilization was in fact the best option in Ms P’s case, one would obviously need to demonstrate that the procedure would in fact promote her own best interests more effectively than any alternative. Eugenic considerations would simply be irrelevant: besides the fact that Ms P already has children, we are not debating here whether we should revive some of the darkest pages in the recent history of the West.


TOPICS: Health/Medicine; Miscellaneous; Science; Society
KEYWORDS: disabled; eugenics; moralabsolutes; sterilization; welfare

1 posted on 02/26/2011 12:53:36 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
The government should take a hint from Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" and push for a Minister of Sterilization who would be authorized to order sterilization of any individual or class of individuals. The person proposed for the post should be wildly and obviously inappropriate for the role. I'm sure some loud-mouthed hate-monger could easily be found.

And then ask the people and the courts: "Do we want government to have the power to force sterilization on anyone? Well, do we??"

I would expect that the outcry would ensure that no such minister would be appointed.

2 posted on 02/26/2011 12:57:58 PM PST by ClearCase_guy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

wrong question being asked. The correct question is “can impregnating a woman with a severe mental disability ever be ethical?”


3 posted on 02/26/2011 1:01:36 PM PST by jz638
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Too bad we cannot sterilize welfare recipients.


4 posted on 02/26/2011 1:03:47 PM PST by pnh102 (Regarding liberalism, always attribute to malice what you think can be explained by stupidity. - Me)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy

I don’t want forced sterilization either, but what is the solution when large masses of the population are irresponsible in their procreation?


5 posted on 02/26/2011 1:05:46 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
Ending of government services would be good. Food, fuel, housing? Good luck.

People WILL alter their behavior is they are forced to pay the price rather than have society foot the bill.

6 posted on 02/26/2011 1:11:21 PM PST by ClearCase_guy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.

-George Bernard Shaw - Fabian Socialist
7 posted on 02/26/2011 1:21:34 PM PST by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

How about voluntary vasectomies paid for by charitable organizations, offering each man, say, $1,000 cash?

Yes, there’d have to be procedures to prevent fraud. And of course one would need to put in place all the necessary safeguards for voluntariness, including massive notice that the procedure is usually irreversible, have nice, clean, modern clinics doing the procedure, etc.

If a man voluntarily would take $1K from a private charity in exchange for a lifetime of fathering fatherless children, why not? Is it unethical for him to have that choice?


8 posted on 02/26/2011 1:23:00 PM PST by fightinJAG (TAXPAYERS OF THE WORLD UNITE)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
what is the solution when large masses of the population are irresponsible in their procreation?

The obvious solution is to stop rewarding it.
9 posted on 02/26/2011 1:24:37 PM PST by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: fightinJAG

I would have no objection. There is a private organization, Project Prevention, that does just that for substance abusers: www.projectprevention.org


10 posted on 02/26/2011 1:28:04 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

It seems to me mom is functioning as caregiver. That would make Mom also able to make some medical decisions for daughter.


11 posted on 02/26/2011 1:31:53 PM PST by I still care (I miss my friends, bagels, and the NYC skyline - but not the taxes. I love the South.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Can forced sterilization ever be ethical?

Of course it can. Sterilize Obama voters.


12 posted on 02/26/2011 1:37:06 PM PST by Electric Graffiti (Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their Moonbats)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

It is only ethical if it is evenly apllied to all of the legal proffesion upon entering law school.


13 posted on 02/26/2011 1:44:35 PM PST by MrEdd (Heck? Geewhiz Cripes, thats the place where people who don't believe in Gosh think they aint going.8)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
anyone excepting welfare should be sterilized, as well as any illegal aliens.
14 posted on 02/26/2011 1:44:35 PM PST by TexasFreeper2009 (Obama = Carter 2.0 The Epic Fail Edition)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Well there used to be a group called “conservatives” who advocated zero government provided food, shelter, clothing, or medical care.

The problem takes care of itself under those conditions.


15 posted on 02/26/2011 1:49:03 PM PST by MrEdd (Heck? Geewhiz Cripes, thats the place where people who don't believe in Gosh think they aint going.8)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy

That would be a great start, though it won’t be enough to convince middle class single women to not have children without a husband.


16 posted on 02/26/2011 1:50:45 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Is it ethical? Depends on whose ethics. We’ve pretty much dismissed all Christian & Greek ethics in favor of progressive rationalizations. Why not here?


17 posted on 02/26/2011 1:56:00 PM PST by Mach9
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Is it ethical? Depends on whose ethics. We’ve pretty much dismissed all Christian & Greek ethics in favor of progressive rationalizations. Why not here?


18 posted on 02/26/2011 1:56:06 PM PST by Mach9
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
My viewpoint is that Miss P has the right to have as many children as she can support though her own income.

At the point where others become obligated to support the results of her exercising her freedom, then those forced to support her should be able to curtail her from imposing further burdens upon them.

19 posted on 02/26/2011 1:59:18 PM PST by PapaBear3625 ("It is only when we've lost everything, that we are free to do anything" -- Fight Club)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

“Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” - Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Buck v. Bell


20 posted on 02/26/2011 2:33:46 PM PST by peyton randolph (How's that hopey dopey changey thing working out for you?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby

Who is doing the impregnating? Isn’t that victimizing a handicapped person?


21 posted on 02/26/2011 3:01:03 PM PST by JimRed (Excising a cancer before it kills us waters the Tree of Liberty! TERM LIMITS, NOW AND FOREVER!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
People WILL alter their behavior is they are forced to pay the price rather than have society foot the bill.

This is true but the current political demographics of this country will never allow for that to happen. The useless class of welfare recipients, unencumbered by having to pay for things like food, rent, and health care and other "vital" expenses, can simply breed as many new welfare checks as possible.

I'd like to see permanent sterilization be the "cost" of someone getting welfare benefits, but it won't happen overnight. I'd start by paying welfare recipients a bonus for getting spayed or neutered. Over time, as that crop of welfare recipients dies off, their numbers will decrease and then we can finally take back this country.

22 posted on 02/26/2011 3:01:19 PM PST by pnh102 (Regarding liberalism, always attribute to malice what you think can be explained by stupidity. - Me)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: JimRed

It should be, maybe unless her sex partner is mentally retarded.


23 posted on 02/26/2011 3:06:25 PM PST by TheDingoAteMyBaby
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: TheDingoAteMyBaby
Can forced sterilization ever be ethical?

Good God, no. Period. Humans are not pets. Any form of forced human sterilization has behind it a society's demonically smug assumption that it ought to be allowed to decide what sorts of humans it should permit to join its august company, as well as how many of them there should be.

Reading only the headlines and initial paragraphs of the news entries devoted to the case, one might become worried that we are seeing here a resurgence of an abhorrent practice that gained much favour in the first half of the 20th-Century, in countries like Germany or the United States: i.e. the compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded for eugenic purposes.

And one would be on the money. Though the article begins by assuring us that (paraphrasing here) "It's not really eugenics if it's for the woman's own good rather than society's," a couple of paragraphs later, we are told:

Annas is also right that the court’s decision should take into consideration the young woman’s best interests. I am less sure, though, that this should be the only relevant consideration: shouldn’t the interests of society as a whole carry at least some weight, as John Harris suggests?

--and here is society's good, trotted almost immediately back in as a reasonable motive for forced sterilization. We are informed, a couple of sentences later, that of course, one needn't consider such an "extravagant" scenario as the author unravels, because it is unquestionably in the best interests of the woman to have no more children, and that this best interest trumps her "reproductive rights"--or, in other words, that if she is unable to perceive her best interests as defined for her by others (i. e., "society"), then it is in her best interests that someone else make the decision about her best interests for her. This is the logic behind despotism: that people are too stupid to manage their own lives unless governments step in and make them behave--or clean up after them.

The sad thing is that, in this case, you’re almost persuaded to believe them: here is a woman (Mrs. P) who is concerned that her mentally disabled daughter may “fall pregnant” again. I am not convinced that one can “fall pregnant.” I am morally certain that a fairly well-known process precedes this event. Does Mrs. P not know what this is? Has she ever taught her daughter what it is? If her daughter cannot be taught, or being taught, refuses to act with restraint, can she be restrained? If restraint seems dehumanizing or a violation of her daughter’s rights, is it more or less so than having her spayed like a cat, a form of restraint that Mrs. P seems not to shy away from?

Or does Mrs. P believe--as millions seem to--that sex is a physical and morally-neutral pleasure which biological accident has cruelly attached to reproduction, and that it is the right of all sentient and progressively-thinking entities to remove the purpose from the pleasure, and to pursue the pleasure with all consequences--biological or otherwise--removed, or in some cases, penalized for existing at all? And that it is the duty of society to construct an environment in which this is possible?

Well, governments are more than eager to jump in and do that for you, once you provide the excuse. And they will do it--as in the case of P--for your best interests, even if you are unable or unwilling to recognize them.

24 posted on 02/26/2011 4:29:25 PM PST by Dunstan McShane
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Bloggers & Personal
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson