Imagine China, a country frequently cited for human rights violations, endorsing a program that sterilizes impoverished people in order to lessen the burden on public welfare that their children would impose. Imagine Egypt, a nation anguished by political and economic turmoil, creating a sterilization program that targets people with low IQs in order to improve the gene pool. Replace each of the aforementioned countries with the United States, and the situation becomes not-so-imaginable. Open Saturday, December 10, 2011’s New York Times, and the unimaginable becomes a reality.
As reported by the New York Times, the North Carolina state government sanctioned a sterilization program from 1933 to 1977 “as an experiment in genetic engineering once considered a legitimate way to keep welfare rolls small, stop poverty and improve the gene pool.” The victims? A 12-year-old girl who was raped by her father, a man with a low IQ who was deemed “mentally deficient,” a child with a non-English speaking grandmother who was persuaded to sign the waiver with an “X” instead of her name. 60,000 lower class, illiterate and impoverished Americans were wrongfully taken advantage of by a government they trusted. Some people were given an ultimatum: either sign the sterilization agreement or family members lose their welfare checks.
The inequality, immorality, and cruelty that this situation embodies is indescribable. As the human race continues to make incredible advances in medicine and technology, past indiscretions continue to severely undermine any attempts at forward societal progress. Three centuries ago, when slavery and racism were commonplace, similar transgressions may have been tolerated or promoted. However, these crimes were largely committed in the modern day era. We can no longer place the blame on our ancestors because those responsible are still alive today. And not only are they still alive, but they are also in the same governmental positions that allowed them the power to commit these atrocities. This nation was founded on ideals of liberty and equality, and depraved programs like these undermine the goals set forth by the founding fathers who sacrificed their own freedoms to establish a more equal tomorrow. The judicial system has frequently handled cases in which one party sues another for murder, homicide or manslaughter. In short, these cases argue over the monetary value of a life. Now, the 60,000 people who were wrongfully sterilized must put a price tag on the ability to create a new life.
Was this a case of dirty hands? Possibly. The government officials were under the belief that these sterilizations would improve the lives of the patients and the patients’ families. Similarly, the money that would be required to support the children that they can no longer have could be allotted elsewhere. Therefore, they overlooked the immoral side of the argument in order to benefit society. If they had refused to do so, the agency would have found other willing workers to replace them.
I also think Marx would have a field day with this one. This can undoubtedly be perceived as an unequal and unjust suppression of the lower class. It also represents the evil nature of a class society and the dangers that such an environment holds. However, do the people who conducted the sterilizations have an argument? If they were really trying to do good for society, is the scrutiny by society (and this blog post) acceptable? The United States government can now – with reasonable justification – listen to our phone calls, read our emails, and confiscate our property. Does the government also have the right to take away people’s ability to have children?