Several feminist bloggers have recently written about a story out of Tanzania involving the involuntary sterilization of a woman with several children. As an American doctors helped her to deliver another child, there was a problem with the epidural injection, and the woman stopped
breathing. The American doctor did chest compressions to save her life. Another doctor performed a tubal ligation, saying, “I think she does not need another baby after this.” The American doctor later called the second doctor’s actions “heroic”
When the story broke on the “Femnomics” blog, he defended his stance on the second doctor’s actions by saying that it had to do with realities of life in remote parts of the world and that the sterilization was done with the risks in mind of what could happen if the woman got pregnant again. But all I could think about was large group of women who were sterilized “for their own good”.
(Read the whole story on the Tanzania sterilization here, plus the American doctor’s defense of his actions, here: http://femonomics.blogspot.com/2011/11/involuntary-sterilization-cowboy.html)
Involuntary Sterilization in North American News
Meanwhile, North Carolina is currently trying to decide how much monetary compensation is owed to the 7600 people that its Eugenics Boards declared should be sterilized involuntarily between 1933 and 1977. According to a recent New York Times articles (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/us/redress-weighed-for-forced-sterilizations-in-north-carolina.html?_r=2&pagewanted=2&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimes), 31 states had such eugenics programs. They were “an experiment in genetic engineering once considered a legitimate way to keep welfare rolls small, stop poverty and improve the gene pool.” The “feeble-minded”, or people with intellectual disabilities or mental conditions, were often targets.
Not that America has the monopoly on the this. Forced sterilization was widespread in Canadian institutions for decades. Even after the eugenics argument had fallen from favour, sterilization for women was still favoured as a way to them and the women who support them handle menstruation easily, as birth control, and as a way to protect them from abuse (see http://www.wwda.org.au/steril2.htm for a discussion of this).
North Carolina is currently proposing that the each person that was forcibly sterilized be given $20 000. I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone where I stand on this. There’s a scene in the film “Erin Brockovitch”, which (in case there’s anyone left out there who hasn’t seen it), deals with a lawsuit over a town’s water that’s got a cancer-causing compound in it, courtesy of a very large company. When the lawyers are trying to hammer out a settlement for each citizen that’s been affected, Erin says, (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’d like you to consider what your kidneys mean to you…or your ovaries…or your kid’s health…and times that by a million…and then come back with an offer. Anything else is insulting.”
I think that’s the kind of consideration that’s needed here. These people need to go home and look at their kids’ baby pictures, and think about how they would feel if the choice to mother or father that child was taken away from them without their consent (and quite possibly even their knowledge). And think about just what that sterilization was intended to do. And multiply whatever number they come up by another, substantial number. Then they might be getting close to a reasonable settlement.
And put the laws in place so that this never happens to anyone else again.
Anything else is insulting.