Monday, 8 March 2010

Sterilising the heart and mind

Idiot/Savant has pretty accurately summed up my thoughts on David Garrett's outrageous suggestions about "incentivising" sterilisation. Monstrous indeed.

Apparently it's getting a lot of support in Talkbackland. Not surprising given that's where it started, with Michael Laws on Radio Live.

What's astonished me is how some social liberals and fans of negative freedom have tentatively endorsed the broad idea of promoting sterilisation for Others, in particular David Farrar at Kiwiblog. Here's the guts of his post about the matter on Thursday:
  1. Absolutely against any compulsory sterilisation. Apart from the fact no surgeon will operate on a non consenting patient, the state should not have the power to remove someone’s fertility.
  2. Not supportive of the proposal to pay child abusers to get sterilised, as it will only target poor child abusers, and may be thin end of wedge.
  3. However am open to having a debate on whether one could have it as an early release incentive for people who have been convicted of child abuse and actually gone to prison.

One of the reasons we send people to prison is to protect the community. If someone is sentenced to three years jail for child abuse, then is the community better protected by having them come out at 2.5 years and unable to have more children, or at three years and likely to have more children, whom will grow up abused, and in turn probably becomes abusers themselves.

By not having a monetary incentive, it removes the potential problems of being more attractive to poor child abusers.

Also by limiting it to people in prison, and convicted of child abuse, it means you target the worse of the worse.

I’m sure there are strong arguments against such a policy also, and I am not saying I support it without question. But unless one just wants to wring your hands about the child abuse problem, it may be a more palatable option than monetary incentives which I would not support.

Nice to see Farrar is against "compulsory sterilisation" by the state. To be fair to Garrett, my impression is that wasn't what he was suggesting, so Farrar is creating something of a straw argument here to showcase his (false on this issue imho) liberalism.

What I find appalling about Farrar's post is his total lack of understanding of what it is like to be in prison. I've never been in prison. I've never visited one. I have a good friend who has done a lot of visiting and it sounds absolutely and unreservedly awful. Even if it our prisons did meet the totally untrue stereotype promulgated by some that they are like country clubs, I would still think it was a huge step to take to put someone in a situation they could not leave.

Imagine what it would be like to be locked into your bedroom each night, to have the lights turned off not at a time of your choosing, to have no privacy about any of the possessions you have around you, to be forced to associate with the same people for weeks and months on end, whether you like them or not, to not be able to do the simplest of tasks like go for a walk without permission from someone else. I find it astonishing that people like Farrar, who go on so much about freedom from the state's interference, are incapable of having any empathy for what this would be like. They have totally and utterly Othered those in prison in their minds, and their hearts, as if they were not human at all.

To then say to someone "you can get out of this situation earlier by undergoing sterilisation" is an incredibly powerful incentive. Possibly more powerful than the $5000 Garrett postulated. Yet liberty-loving Farrar puts it forward as if it is somehow a lesser evil.

Other worrying points in Farrar's post:

  • "If someone is sentenced to three years jail for child abuse, then is the community better protected by having them come out at 2.5 years and unable to have more children, or at three years and likely to have more children, whom will grow up abused, and in turn probably becomes abusers themselves." Implicit in this statement is an expectation that during the time in jail the prisoner gets no (re)habilitation, no support to address the issues that led to the child abuse in the first place. What is the point of putting someone in prison if we don't assist them to succeed once they are released? Talk about writing people off. Also I understand there is some research that shows that some people who physically or even sexually abuse their own children sometimes do much better with later children than with earlier ones, particularly if they have had effective intervention to support their parenting. (I read this somewhere recently, or heard it on the radio, readers may be able to point me to where?)
  • "But unless one just wants to wring your hands about the child abuse problem, it may be a more palatable option than monetary incentives which I would not support." Another straw argument. Farrar presents it as only two options - make sterilisation somehow attractive to people he doesn't want to breed, or you won't be doing anything to really address child abuse. Actually how about we put in place (or in some cases re-establish) social and economic policies that support children and their families? Poverty is one of the key drivers of child abuse. We could do quite a lot of effective work on that without ever once looking in the despicable direction of giving the vulnerable in our society incentives to curtail their fertility.

Anyway, I look forward to the doctors concerned about having to tell women about abortion speaking out against this latest outrage against Catholic doctrine. Won't be holding by breath, but.




6 comments:

Psycho Milt said...

No dispute re sterilisation not being as excellent an idea as various supposedly freedom-loving right-wingers seem to think it is. However:

Actually how about we put in place (or in some cases re-establish) social and economic policies that support children and their families?

We already have generous social welfare provisions for children and families, superior to any other period in history. It hasn't noticably improved the situation.

Poverty is one of the key drivers of child abuse.

Maybe. Poverty is strongly correlated with child abuse, but that's not the same thing - for instance, it's also possible that the kind of wasters who abuse children are the kind of wasters who can't hold down a job. We don't really have conclusive evidence re causality.

Hugh said...

What I find amusing is that he actually mentioned the Indian sterilisation program as a successful example.

If I was advocating sterilisation, I'd be doing my utmost to example why my ideas were different to Indira Gandhi's.

Principessa said...

I wrote about this too. I thought Kerre Woodham's line that extreme ideas are worthy of consideration was really weird.

http://ablognamedfred.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/treatment-for-child-abusers/

Katherine said...

If they were really serious, why not subsidise all contraception? Family Planning keep telling me that the government still hasn't subsidised IUDs. I have no idea if sterilisation is subsidised already. Much fewer people would be opposed to them doing this, it would probably result in a similar result to what these pay-sterilisation pushers want (less brown people! >_<"), what's not to like?

Julie said...

Psycho, the social and economic policies I had in the forefront of my mind when I wrote this post were ones which directly impact on the stress a family (in particular the parents) are under. Things like access to decent housing, decent paid work, support with chronic health problems, non-judgemental parenting programmes, roots of empathy in every school in the country, universal provision of early childhood education, that kind of thing. As far as I'm concerned we are not there yet on any of those things.

I think it would have been more accurate for me to say that pressure is a key driver of child abuse. And that one of the main types of pressure that Government can most directly assist to alleviate is financial.

Here's a hotlink to Principessa's post :-)

If you were to subsidise sterilisation (and like Katherine I have no idea if it is already, I imagine that if you need to be sterilised for a medical, rather than a social, reason it probably is?) you would need to do it universally really. And personally I do support universal subsidies for contraception in general. Not sure about Mr Garrett though.

AnneE said...

All of the sterilisation hype seems to assume that people abuse only their own children. In fact the risk of abuse is much higher where partners unrelated to the child are present - especially males. There is absolutely nothing to stop sterilised people abusing other people's children - they might even be more likely to do so.