This morning’s BBC Breakfast News brought to light a charitable project currently active in the US whereby drug addicts are being offered cash incentives of as much as US$ 300,00 to undergo long term contraception or sterilisation.
I can barely think of anything more controversial. The word ‘eugenics’ has cropped up several times during this debate. On one hand, the defenders of the project present horror stories of children badly neglected, abused or abandoned by their addicted parents; on the other, the opposition argues that addiction does not necessarily equate to bad parenting and that with support many addicts can raise families successfully.
I can see both sides of the dispute. While an eugenics programme is a mistake (‘Lest we forget’), many people are incapable of meeting their children’s basic needs; and other people, damaged though they may be themselves, remain remarkably caring parents. There will always be a dichotomy in this respect. The one point of view I noticed was absent from the BBC Breakfast News’ coverage is the element of choice.
To force somebody to undergo sterilising treatment against their will is nothing short of committing grievous bodily harm. But I find it courageous and humane to offer vulnerable people birth control when they might find themselves in situations where they are too high to think about contraception. It is necessary to look at the matter head on, without hypocrisy. Even sober people mess up on birth control. I feel certain that the majority of addicts who have participated in the programme so far did not actually want to have children depending on them whilst they are incapable of bringing them up adequately. Let’s also not forget that the US does not boast of a National Health Service, and undergoing some of the procedures outlined would be costly to people who would rather spend their money elsewhere. The cash offered is an incentive to those who would not get round to it otherwise. Another point in question is that sterilisation is not generally irreversible; there are many long term contraceptives(such as the coil or subcutaneous implants) that last for years yet are easily removable. Even vasectomies and tubal ligations can be reverted. In short, if any of the subjects decided that they were ready to start a family it would not be out of their reach.
I look upon this matter not only through the prism of drug addiction. In Brazil I grew up with the hypocrisy of the Catholic State. The poorest families conceive again and again, to their despair, because sterilisation and long term contraception is out of their reach. To make children is very easy, and there are too many people who feel it is out of their control to stop. I feel projects such as this give people a choice, as well as prevent more children from being born to people who do not and cannot want them.