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.
Facts: Boston Globe