Project Prevention -- Eugenics or Common Sense?

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Barbara Harris started Project Prevention with one goal in mind, to reduce the number of babies born addicted to drugs. Her idea, 10 years ago, was to pay addicts to get sterilized. Since then, with new, long-term birth control methods, the program now offers other options besides permanent sterilization for women. For men, vasectomy is the only option project prevention will pay for.

The program is in the news again (BBC, Inside Out) because earlier this year it moved across the Atlantic to England. The next expansion is expected to be into Ireland. But even after 10 years and 3,600 ‘clients’ who were paid to get sterilized or receive implants (IUDs or Depo-Provera) the controversy remains.

The charge of eugenics (altering the gene pool by preventing the birth of ‘unwanted’ types) is commonly raised, as well as concerns about the ability of addicts to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives; in some cases, long after they become clean and sober. Are addicts doing this just for the money without informed and careful consideration? Are they even capable of seeing past next week or their next fix?

Harris has also been quoted as saying, “We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children." She has some statistics that seem to bear this out, with clients who have already had as many as 21 children before they have the procedure. Mrs. Harris
herself cares for four adopted children; children that entered the system by way of an addicted mother.

Tough Call

It’s not an easy judgment to whether Harris is a devil or an angel. Like most policy decisions regarding addiction, there is no clear winner. On the one hand, certainly addicts may want the quick $300 as enough of an incentive to put their reservations aside, and I doubt that Mrs. Harris would say her four adopted children shouldn’t have been born. On the other hand, there are a lot of babies entering the world addicted or doomed to a life of neglect followed by foster care.

Setting aside the controversy and looking at the addicts themselves we see people who, in most cases, are eligible for contraception through social services. Obviously, the money from Project Prevention is an incentive to do what they haven’t done on their
own. And if an addict is so far gone that they will sell their ability to have children, were they good candidates for having kids in the first place?

Without the permanent nature of a vasectomy or tubal ligation, the controversy would diminish. It isn’t that being paid to not have children is so outrageous, it’s only when the decision cannot be reversed.

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