A campaign for the sterilisation of drug addicts in the United States is coming to the UK. Barbara Harris’ non-profit organisation, ‘project prevention’ offers cash as an incentive for drug addicts to agree to long-term contraceptives or sterilisation.
Harris argues that children born to drug addicts are, from the outset, unfairly deprived in society. But the sterilisation of drug addicts ignores the rights of underprivileged women and men to bear children without discrimination. Rather than working with hospitals and police to campaign for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts and the imprisonment of drug dealers – measures which could truly combat the illegal drug trade – the organisation promotes the more-than-controversial idea that addicts should be deprived of the right to have children. Who is Barbara Harris to decide which human beings should be allowed to reproduce?
Dr Mary Hepburn declared the organisation to be guilty of ‘selectively punishing disadvantaged women instead of recognising that their addiction problems have arisen because of issues of social marginalisation’. The scheme is evidently exploitative, targeting the poor and addicted, who, desperate for money, are not in a position to turn down the tempting offer. Are addicts really in a legitimate position to sign away their fertility? The organisation indirectly funds the illegal drug trade by providing drug addicts with the monetary resources to maintain their addiction in return for their fertility. Even if the sterilisation of addicts was to – bizarrely – be declared ethical, the bribe of money as an incentive taints any moral superiority the project aims to project.
Barbara Harris is seeking for ‘project prevention’ to become an official charity in the United Kingdom, but it seems unlikely that the charity commission will support this given the organisation’s contentious aims. The campaign shows a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of human beings to adapt and recover from addiction. The drug addicts whose fertility she has taken could with time and rehabilitation become sober men and women seeking to start healthy families. If this campaign is legalised in the UK, where will we stop? How can we be sure that this campaign will not extend to women who smoke, drink or suffer from mental health problems?
As if this initial project isn’t controversial enough, Barbara Harris is planning to kick-start two new campaigns involving the sterilisation of women in Africa suffering from AIDS who risk passing it onto their children and the sterilisation of women in Haiti who cannot afford to feed their children. Such unorthodox ideas will surely provoke serious debate over the ethics of dealing with such vast global issues as AIDS, poverty, overpopulation and victims of the drug trade.