Should Addicts be paid to be sterilized?
one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow. Outside the pound shops and
bookmakers on the high street, Barbara Harris, founder of US charity Project Prevention,
is giving out flyers. She hands one to James, a wiry man in his 20s.
"I'm from a nonprofit organisation," she tells him. "If you know any
drug addicts or alcoholics who could get pregnant, we will pay them £200
to be on long-term birth control."
"I'm a drug addict!" James declares. "You'd give me £200? But I'm a guy…"
"You can have a vasectomy," Harris replies, quick as a flash.
His eyes widen. "Two hundred pounds! You don't get the money today, though, do you?"
"No, you don't get the money until after. Do you know any women who are pregnant and using drugs around here?"
are hundreds of women like that around here." He gestures up the road.
"Go to the health centre – that's where you'll see them." Harris leaves
James studying the flyer. He's grinning, incredulous.
She asks to
leave flyers at the NHS health centre reception, but the manager is out,
so she's told she'll have to come back. She sticks a few in the
railings outside, and props four or five in the soil of a nearby
flowerbed. The flyers are hand-cut, on yellow card. There's a photo of a
tiny newborn covered in tubes above the slogan, "Every baby deserves a
Harris doesn't think addicts should have children,
and her charity is using cash incentives to make sure they don't. In
the 12 years since Project Prevention launched in the US, she has paid
1,307 people $300 to be sterilised, and given money to many more in
exchange for long-term contraception. In total, Harris has bought the
fertility of more than 3,000 Americans with drug and alcohol problems – only 47 of them men. Now she's turning her attention to Britain.
me, it's about preventing child abuse," she says. "This is legal child
abuse." Babies are being born in withdrawal, underweight, with serious
medical problems, she says, and if they survive, they are destined to a
bleak future. "What's the quality of life they're going to have? How
many problems are they going to have? The cycle will keep repeating
itself. But it's preventable. It's just common sense to me."
isn't common sense to everyone, though. It feels profoundly unsettling
to be walking around one of Britain's poorest districts with a woman
who's promising people serious money in exchange for their fertility. As
we leave the health centre, I think about how Harris's website says her
mission is "to reduce the number of substance-exposed births to zero".
If she managed to achieve that goal here, a lot of people in Possilpark
wouldn't be able to have children.
In the US, Project Prevention
has been compared to the Nazis' eugenics programme, but Harris isn't
bothered by her critics. "They are willing to call me Hitler, but what
are they doing to help? Are they willing to adopt any of these children
that they think should continue to be born? If they're not part of the
solution, they're part of the problem. Everybody talks about the right
of the woman – what about the rights of the children? They are the
Addicts who decide to take advantage of Harris's offer
call the project's hotline and leave their details. They are sent
paperwork to take to their doctor, who must verify their drug or alcohol
problem. Once they have been sterilised or had a long-term
contraceptive fitted, the doctor signs papers to confirm it. When
Project Prevention gets the papers back, the addicts get their money.
It's a lump sum for those who choose sterilisation; those who go for
less permanent birth control are paid in instalments, as long as they
can prove the contraceptive is still in place.
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