Sliding UP The Slippery Slope: NO To Forced Sterilization, And A Belated NO To Forced Vasectomies Too

"OK, now this is entirely your free choice..."

“OK, now this is entirely your free choice…”

This has turned into Revisiting Old Posts Day on Ethics Alarms.

Last July, I posted an Ethics Quiz regarding a Virginia judge’s sentence offering a profligate and irresponsible serial father to choice between an extra four years in jail and a vasectomy at his own expense. After asking readers whether they thought the sentence was ethical, especially in light of the state’s ugly history of forced sterilizations, I demurred, writing,

I am not ready to make a call on this one. Since neglected children often become the responsibility of taxpayers, the argument that the state has no legitimate interest in regulating profligate reproduction by irresponsible parents falls flat. Is taking away someone’s ability to have more children (after seven) really a greater intrusion on his freedom than locking him up? Yet this sentence seems to cross lines that government should cross with caution, if at all. I’m not sorry that Herald won’t be inflicting more of his line on us. I am uneasy, however, with the way this result came about.

I am now ready to make an ethics call in the quiz in light of this news report:

NASHVILLE — Nashville prosecutors have made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations at least four times in the past five years, and the district attorney has banned his staff from using the invasive surgery as a bargaining chip after the latest case.

In the most recent case, first reported by The Tennessean, a woman with a 20-year history of mental illness had been charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby died mysteriously. Her defense attorney says the prosecutor assigned to the case wouldn’t go forward with a plea deal to keep the woman out of prison unless she had the surgery.

That settles the ethics issue for me. The state has no legitimate power to interfere with a woman’s right to reproduce, nor a man’s either. This is a dangerous slippery slope that has no natural stops. Parents have children they can’t afford; they have children they will abuse; they have children who will share their bad genes and low intellect; they have children they will turn into bigots, racists, killers, crooks, drunk drivers, drug addicts, animal abusers and Nancy Pelosi voters. Never mind. This is one choice squarely within the realm of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (and no, NARAL Fans, the “choice” of killing the unborn on a whim is not analogous.)

A plea bargain contingent on sterilization is no more voluntary than consent earned by gun pointed at the head.  The answer to that Ethics Quiz…

 Is it ethical for a state to make a convicted felon choose between prison time and sterilization?

…is absolutely not, and the Nashville district attorney has restored ethics to his department.


Pointer: Fred

Facts: Boston Globe

20 thoughts on “Sliding UP The Slippery Slope: NO To Forced Sterilization, And A Belated NO To Forced Vasectomies Too

  1. Don’t be surprised if one of the Duggar children are found at the center of a landmark court case which will ultimately rule in favor of a compelling state interest in intervening in reproductive choices – to ensure “equal protection.”

  2. How about the State paying people NOT to reproduce — separate and apart from any criminal or civil proceeding?

    Any adult (aged 18 and up of sound mind) can get long-lasting — but reversible — birth control. The State pays for the procedure and you get $5000 (or whatever amount) a year in tax refunds for every year you haven’t reproduced. Once you ask the State to reverse the procedure (or get it reversed on your own AND reproduce), you no longer get your $5000 tax refund. If you have a child before the age of 18, you are never entitled to receive the benefit.

    Even if this policy results in poor, uneducated, unmarried, and/or young people delaying the decision to become parents until they are more mature and more fiscally responsible, it would be a huge benefit to society.

    • As you probably recall, I believe using money to make someone do what they would ordinarily not do is a form of coercion as well, and that paying people to be responsible just encourages them to be more irresponsible to get a better bribe.

  3. I struggle with this… Up here in Canada we had the government of Nunavut attempt to force the sterilization of an Inuit woman who had given birth to her 6th child affected with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The government’s bid was overruled… And for the same reason as the coerced sterilizations, I agree with the decision, but it still leaves an awful taste in my mouth.

  4. Plea bargains are the least of it, Jack. The state (by which I mean “government”, not “Tennessee, specifically) has an ugly history of ordering the forced, coerced, and/or involuntary sterilization of prison inmates and people deemed “unfit” to reproduce. In California, for instance, at least 148 women were sterilized in prison between 2006 and 2010 in a “voluntary” program (see and/or ; also ).

    The case of Buck v Bell, and the circumstances surrounding it, comes to mind as well.

    In short, I suppose, all of this is just a legacy of one of America’s greatest ethics corrupters (and, as a social movement of ethics corrupters, I think it deserves a special place in the metaphorical hall of infamy): the eugenics movement.

    • I covered Buck V. Bell in the earlier post, AC…the shocker is that the Va. law was still live into the 70’s. Buck v. Bell was used by the German defense attorney to mark the US as hypocrites during the Nuremberg Trials.

      • Well, yes, at least somewhat (assuming you’re talking about the brief discussion in the vasectomy post) — but I maintain that being reminded of the matter whenever this topic comes up is fully justified.

        Actually, given the sheer level of legal corruption involved there, it’s worthy of multiple ethics dunce awards in and of itself, and (IMHO) constitutes a pretty spectacular ethics train wreck.

        • I agree completely. You know, when the film “Judgment at Nuremberg” came out, everyone was shocked to learn about the Holmes SCOTUS opinion and the law generally….but no reviews or new reports noted that the law was still in force! All of this has been below the radar.

  5. Why was “choice” in quotes? You may disagree with the one being made, but (under the current system) it’s still a very legitimate, legal option.

    • Maybe because the “choice” is being made by only one of the three affected parties, one of whom is much more affected than the chooser.

    • Choice is in quotes because its a dishonest characterization of the true issue, and ignores half of the problem. It isn’t just a woman’s right to choose an abortion that is involved. An unborn human being’s right to exist is the other side of the equation. It’s an ethics conflict, and concentrating just on one side obscures and distorts the ethical issue while simplifying it—which is, of course, the objective.

      • “It’s an ethics conflict”

        How so?

        What is the competing ethical value on the baby-killing side of the equation?

        Woman’s right to do with her body as she pleases? The baby isn’t her body…

        It is an ethics delimma…in which the non-ethical considerations of the woman’s comfort and convenience are so strong with the woman she devalues the baby’s life.

        • Autonomy, right to self determination, fairness, equity, compassion on one side.
          Accountability, responsibility, respect or life, fairness, benevolence, kindness, trust, loyalty on the other.

          I never said it was a close conflict. One side has all the big marbles.

        • Unless she wants it. Then it’s her prrcious bundle of joy. I could never figure out how you can be charged for double-homicide for killing a pregnant woman, at the same point of gestation in which you can still legally abort. If I ever have to murder someone whose life I find disposable, I might try that defense. I’ll call it an ultra-late-term abortion.

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