Tennessee Judge Pushes Sterilization on Those Incarcerated for Drugs

(Photo: Gatsi / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Photo: Gatsi / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Tennessee Judge Sam Benningfield thinks he’s come up with a brilliant solution to the opioid crisis: Offer drug offenders 30 days off their jail sentences, if they agree to vasectomies or long-acting reversible contraceptives. Over 70 inmates have already “agreed” to the terms of the deal — and the ACLU, among civil rights groups, is not impressed.

Benningfield argues that having children can complicate recovery for people struggling with drug addiction. But there are a lot of problems with his coerced sterilization program, starting with just that: It’s coerced.

For centuries, people in power have tried to limit the reproductive freedom of various social groups in the name of eugenics — breeding a “better” class of humans. The efforts came to full flower in the United States in the 20th century, when sterilization procedures got safer and more efficient, and access to nonsurgical birth control expanded. Tens of thousands of Americans across 32 states — from California to South Carolina — were forcibly sterilized.

Such programs primarily targeted people of color, low-income people and disabled people. An up-and-coming German politician was so impressed with American eugenics programs that he successfully instituted them in his own nation — including not just forced sterilization, but also “euthanasia” of people deemed undesirable. His name might be familiar: Adolf Hitler.

Today, these programs are recognized as deeply harmful, and many states have strict rules surrounding sterilization. The medical establishment has also changed the way it handles cases when patients request permanent and potentially irreversible sterilization procedures.

Now, the expectation is that patients should be queried to confirm they’re freely choosing the procedure, in addition to being able to exercise informed consent. Patients receive a detailed explanation of the procedure, the risks and the benefits explained — and must reaffirm at…

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