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Response to Embrace the controversy: let’s offer Project Prevention on the NHS

Dominic is right thataddicts are competent to decide on sponsored sterilisation. I have argued that addicts can be autonomous and can consent to research trials involving drugs of addiction (Foddy, B., Savulescu, J.. (2006). ‘Addiction and Autonomy: Can Addicted People Consent to the Prescription of Their Drug of Addiction?’ Bioethics. 20 (1): 1-15 (Feb). DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2006.00470.x). I have also argued that paying people large amounts of money to participate in risky experiments does not coerce them or unreasonably induce them (Savulescu, J. (2001) ‘Taking the Plunge’. New Scientist; 169:50) and elsewhere that it is reasonable to offer people money for their organs – the only real ethical issue being to settle on a fair minimum price.

So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with offering addicts money to be sterilised. The only issue is – why stop at addicts? The principle behind this would seem to be that addicts are unfit to parent. But what about paedophiles, the mentally ill, or intellectually disabled? It is hard to see how the principle would not extend to a form of passive eugenics, like what the Nazis imposed in more extreme forms.

The obvious way to avoid this is to offer the inducement to everyone. This has the lovely consequence that those who don’t really want to or value parenting would take the money. And they are not likely to be any more model parents that addicts are.

The benefit of a policy of offering inducements to sterilisation is that it would select those who do not value, do not understand, do not want the role of parent. And it is precisely these people who are likely to be the worst parents.

Being a parent is, at best, a difficult job. Why not excuse those with the least motivation and determination? There are plenty of others willing to take their place. And the earth can only sustain a finite number of people.

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2 Comment on this post

  1. This response appears to ignore the power of the financial incentive to those who may be vulnerable to economic pressure. Put very bluntly: Rich (or even moderately well off) potentially bad parents will not take the money. It offers no incentive to them. I think this idea would be run the risk of ‘selecting’ the poor or vulnerable.

    The argument is also made in a religious, cultural and economic vacuum – try talking voluntary sterilisation to Catholics, Jews and Muslims or those in circumstances where having ten kids is a means of survival.

    This leads to the global population argument, which is redundant – first, because our discussion is about a small UK based idea, and second, because the population is already many billions over what the world can sustain.

    For me (and I’ll use that phrase that’s rare these days ‘I don’t know for sure’) – it’s at best ethically questionable and practically useless.

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