Charity Pays Thousands of Addicts to Get Sterilized

By Dirk Hanson 04/20/11

An American "charity" is paying thousands of U.S. drug addicts not to have children. Buoyed by its success, the group has moved on to Britain. Now Denmark may be taking up the trend.

Smart public policy, or revolting eugenics?
Photo via thinkstockphotos

"Women addicted to drugs and alcohol should not conceive children," says Barbara Harris of Project Prevention in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Harris believes that the best thing you can do for drug addicts is to pay for their sterilization. "We are working around the clock locating addicts and offering them $300 to be responsible," Harris says on a recorded message at Project Prevention headquarters. She and her group have been reluctant to engage the press since European addiction specialists recently began calling her movement a form of eugenics. Harris and her American "charitable" organization made news late last year by offering UK drug addicts £200 if they would spend it to get sterilized. The shocking offer quickly morphed into an effort to pay for “long-term birth control” for addicts, says BBC News. Reports indicate that since its founding in 1994, Project Prevention has paid for 3,388 sterilizations or long term-contraception measures in the U.S. The goal of the group, said Harris, is to reduce "the number of substance-exposed births to zero."

British public opinion is divided. As the U.K. Guardian observed: "Would the addiction render consent invalid? Is the payment a coercive means of getting people to agree to a sterilisation they would otherwise not contemplate?" However, "the problem that Ms. Harris is trying to address is a real one," contends Julian Sheather, the British Medical Association's ethics manager, writing on the British Medical Journal's blog. "A small number of drug-addicted women give birth to a succession of drug-dependent children who are taken into foster care. It is by any standards an appalling start in life." Nonsense, says the chief executive of British drug charity Addaction. The offer “exploits very vulnerable people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol at probably the lowest point in their lives.” Harris has a very simple answer for all this: “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.” 

Recently, the crackpot movement to sterilize drug addicts has also apparently spread to Denmark, where Health Minister Bertel Haarder said he was making an effort to “help” female drug addicts by urging the state to waive the 13,000 kroner fee for sterilization from the Danish public health service. Female drug addicts and alcoholics wishing to get sterilized would receive this support, according to a Danish newspaper, because “these women stand a significant risk of giving birth to deformed children.” Project Prevention maintains an active Facebook site, where thousands of fans discuss plans to extend the group's sterilization activities to Russia and Third World countries.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
dirk hanson.jpg

Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]