Paying Crack Addicts Not to Have Children

Is it ethical for private citizens to pay drug-addicted men and women not to have children? That’s the issue raised by Barbara Harris, whose group pays women $200 if they agree to either be sterilized or use a form of long-term birth control such as Depo Provera. Since Harris started Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity (CRACK), the organization’s Project Prevention has found 560 addicts willing to accept her deal.

Harris will speak at the 28th annual conference of the Association for Behavior Analysis in Ontario, Toronto, in May 2002, and her scheduled talk isn’t going over well with folks who consider what she does analogous to eugenics efforts (according to The National Post, parts of Canada were covered by a law granting the state the right to sterilize some people until 1972).

Harris defended her tactics to the National Post saying, “There’s really no reason a drug addict or an alcoholic should get pregnant. And if we can prevent that from happening by offering them $200, then it’s the best $200 that could be spent.”

Critics, however, raise two major objections — that the practice is racially biased and that addicts cannot consent to sterilization.

The Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy’s Eugene Oscapella told the Post, “If she’s going after crack addicted babies, then she’s going after minorities, plain and simple.” In fact, though, so far the group has had 267 white clients take the $200 compared to 190 black clients.

The claim that drug addicts can’t consent to this is a bit odd. Dr. Peter SElby tells the Post that, “The real issue for people with a medical disability was whether they could appreciate what they were consenting to. It’s the same here, because the drug addiction entices them [crack addicts] to get it done.”

But if a person is so addicted to drugs that he or she cannot consent to long term birth control or sterilization, how can such a person possibly consent to potentially becoming a parent? The consent issue seems to raise a lot more problems than it solves (if a drug addict cannot consent to Depo Provera for money, could the same addict consent to drug treatment for money?)

Michel Perron adds a note of caution, noting that targeting crack addicts may be necessary since the jury is still out on the effect of crack addiction on fetal development. That is certainly true, but even if crack proves not to be all that harmful to the fetus, a crack addict is unlikely to prove to be an ideal parent. As Professor Arthur Schafer of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba told the Post, “I think it’s legitimate to say to drug addicts, if you have babies they are going to pay a terrible price when they’re born and when they grow up and have you as a parent.”


Advocate of sterilizing addicts coming to Toronto. Odile Nelson, National Post, November 15, 2001.

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