Bribes for Lives – Sterilising Drug Addicts
She has been described as a ‘Nazi’ and sparked anger from religous and pro-life groups across the UK. Barbara Harris is an American woman on a mission, to offer money to drug addicts in return for “longterm birth control” (a smushy, inaccurate term; she means sterilisation) – so, in effect, bribing them to have their ability to have children taken away.
‘Project Prevention’ was set up after Mrs Harris adopted the children of a crack addict and so far has paid 3,500 addicts across America. Her reasoning behind the idea is that she gets so angry about the damage that drugs do to children of addicts. That anger is no doubt shared by many – it is estimated that 1 million children in the UK live with drug addict parents and it cannot be argued that in such a situation, the child’s health and welfare is at risk. Harris obviously feels incredibly passionate about protecting children, but is offering money to addicts to get the snip a reasonable way to tackle the problem?
Today, “John” became the first British person to take up the offer of cash to have a vasectomy and despite feeling nervous, felt that it was the right thing for him to do as he didn’t feel responsible enough to bring up a child of his own. But would he have taken such extreme action if it had not been in exchange for money? I think not.
The ethical debate here is not whether or not it is a good idea for drug addicts not to have children, or even to act upon that, but whether it is right for someone to bribe an addict to permanently remover their ability to have children. Let’s look at the terms:
money or any other valuable consideration given or promised with a view to corrupting the behavior of a person
anything given or serving to persuade or induce
a person who is addicted to an activity, habit, or substance: a drug addict. (often also described as ‘dependent’)
The NHS Choices website states: “sterilisation should only be considered by women who do not want any more children, or do not want children at all. Once you are sterilised, it is very difficult to reverse the process, so it is important to consider the other options available.”
Sterilisation is popular in the UK but it is a choice, an informed decision, made by adults who do not want any more children, if at all.
When broken down as above, ‘Project Prevention’ appears as a scheme that approaches addicts (vulnerable, dependent, possibly not of sound state of mind and quite possibly impressionable; easily led). Bribery in itself is not only unethical but morally wrong, especially when taking into account the kind of person who is being bribed. And sterilisation? Usually a form of contraception for older people who have thought long and hard and made the decision that they definitely do not want to have more children – an independent choice without any external input; a private, personal and permanent affair.
Mrs Harris certainly has the interests of children at heart; she, like everyone else, believes that children have the right to a happy, healthy life. But what of the addicts? Does she think they are lesser individuals? It would seem so. What gives her the right to pay them to take away a choice that we all should have though? Not only could it be argued that she is playing God, her project goes so far as to use a bribe that she knows her prey will find hard to turn down. £200 is a lot of money to any Joe Bloggs on the street, nevermind somebody who would rather spend money on drugs than rent or food.
It worked in America – if 3,500 people agreed to her offer, something must be not so out of order from the perspective of the addict. My guess is that when approached, the large majority of these addicts would suffer from extremely low self esteem and see themselves as a person unfit to have children – whether or not that is true, or will always be true is a whole other kettle of fish. By bribing these people to take a permanent action, Mrs Harris is tarring all addicts with the same brush and in addition to suggesting that none of them should have the right to have children, she is presuming that there would be no hope in the future. If she believed that an addict could turn things around, respond to treatment and go on to have children and stay clean (it does happen), then she would perhaps offer a less extreme form of contraception.
A drug addicts has the same human rights as an innocent child – like it or not. They may not be responsible, they may not be percieved to be ‘good’ people and they may not see themselves as fit to have children, but it is not up to some American to come over here and take away that choice. It is wrong and the sooner she returns, the better.Tagged in: addicts, barbara harris, bribes, drugs, project prevention, sterilisation
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