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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9339/forced-sterilization/

Forced Sterilization

January 30, 2009 by

It is often useful for Americans to look toward Europe for a portent of things to come, at least with respect to the political climate. Recently the Dutch Labour MP introduced a rather disturbing new bill for consideration. This despicable piece of legislation seeks to grant the government the power to forcibly sterilize women.

Brief Summary of the Bill
If passed, the Dutch government would claim the power to determine a woman’s fitness to be a parent. Furthermore, the government would claim the power to forcibly sterilize those deemed unfit to procreate. The forced sterilization would take place in two year intervals. Every two years, those deemed unfit would have their cases reviewed by the magistrate to determine fitness. If the magistrate deems the woman fit then her reproductive rights would be restored; otherwise, she would be sterilized for another two year period.

The Dutch Labour MP, van Dijken resorts to utilitarian arguments to justify her proposal. Under this “greater good” argument, she claims that the benefit of sparing children from being born into homes with unfit parents outweighs any violation of the women’s rights. She then argues that the women themselves would greatly benefit from forced sterilization. Van Dijken argues that the two year
(or longer) period sans children would allow women the opportunity to get their lives in order. The belief is that these women would, after getting their lives in order, be able to become the model parents that they would not otherwise be.

Problems of Practicality
Aside from the ethical implications, the first and most glaring problem with this proposal lies with the believed cause of the problem. One of the major assumptions that are made is the cause of the vast number of unfit parents. The assumption is that these parents are having children, despite their lack of ability to properly care for them, because they are unaware that they are incapable of providing for a child. Alternatively, the parents are, for various reasons, incapable or unwilling to use contraceptives. This seems unlikely.

Writer for the Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie, (seen in the accompanying videos) insightfully offers an alternative cause of the problem, the welfare state. It is well known that the Netherlands offers extraordinary benefits to parents, especially those in difficult situations. The editor claims that the extensive benefits provided by the state to these women, encourages them to become ‘baby farms.’

The law of unintended consequences certainly applies here. Clearly the state’s subsidization of parents, whose economic/social situation would otherwise discourage them from procreating, actually encourages these women to have children. This is far from the intent of the subsidy. There is little to indicate that, as long as the subsidization of unfit parents exists, that the number of children born to unfit parents will decrease.

Ethical Issues
There are numerous ethical issues with this proposal. Most glaring is the supposition that the government has the right to revoke a woman’s reproductive rights. The burden of proof is on the state; if it seeks to revoke reproductive rights then it must make an extraordinarily strong case. Even if the state succeeds in making an extraordinarily strong case, it is still debatable whether it ever has the right under any circumstances to take such action. The concept of unalienable rights is very important here. Even if the majority of the people are in favor of this proposal, this does not grant them the right to infringe upon the rights of these women. The tyranny of the majority is certainly a major threat to the individual’s fundamental rights.
Aside from the question of whether or not the government as a whole has the right to infringe upon a woman’s reproductive rights, one must ask does the magistrate have this right? The ethical implications of giving any individual the power to forcibly remove a person’s right to procreate are profound. Dr. Richard Dawkins (also in the accompanying videos) argues that the state has already claimed the right to determine the fitness of a parent and to remove children from unfit parents. He suggests that the right to prevent children from being born into unfit homes is the natural and logical extension of the right to remove children after they are born. This line of reasoning certainly raises questions about the state’s right to seize children from parents under any situation. That was however, not Dr. Dawkins’ intention.

Should this deplorable proposal gain popular support and become law in Holland, it would certainly be a huge blow to individual liberty everywhere. Governments have a dastardly habit of claiming powers based on the powers claimed by other governments. It would indeed be unfortunate if, as a result of this proposals passage, the United States passed something similar.

The following videos are of a debate on the UK television show The Big Question. The panelists and van Dijken thoroughly discuss this issue and raise some interesting points.

Video (part 1)
Video (part 2)
Video (part 3)


David Bratton January 30, 2009 at 11:24 am

She’s a regular Oliver Wendell Holmes isn’t she? Three generations of “mental confusion” is enough.

Gaurav Ahuja January 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm

This gives new meaning to the term, nanny state.

C. Evans January 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Mr. Armstrong,
No need to look to Europe; sterlization was a popular program of the American Progressives in the 1920s. The 1927 Supreme Court Case Buck v. Bell gave us this gem of reasoning from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

He concluded his argument with the infamous exclamation, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Yes, those Progressives are always looking out for the least in society.

I Hate Taxes January 30, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Who in his own mind would want to procreate in this world of tyranny against the individual ?

All women around the world should go on baby strike and refuse to feed the monster with fresh flesh !

I Hate Taxes January 30, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Stories like this make me wonder if some government officials are “unfit” for life and should be forcibly terminated, LOL !

I bet not all of those officials were born from fit mothers, what should we do with them now that they’ve escaped their unfit womb ?

Should we practice a late “abortion” on them ?

Rockyway January 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Of course the people who want to do this, are people who, as a rule, don’t have any children, and don’t want to.

I Hate Taxes January 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

“It would indeed be unfortunate if, as a result of this proposals passage, the United States passed something similar.”

Are you forgetting something ?

In the USA, we have the 2nd amendment !

The USA could never pass something like this and get away with it.

DD January 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I Hate Taxes,

Since when does the Constitution protect us? Or more specific, since when do the justice system uphold the constiution?

Reason January 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm

In the US the programs would be deemed “voluntary sterilizations” and be “forced follow strict guidelines that make HIPAA seem like a cakewalk”. They would result in lots of money spent primarily and, possibly, a few hundred/a thousand procedures done.

Administered locally, statistics will show a few hot spots that sterilize way above the national average. Analysis will find significant cause categories for each: zealousness, psychopaths (serial sterilizers: tv show forthcoming on how these crazies slipped by the system and got jobs/contracts), racism, and reimbursement incentives tied to number of sterilizations performed.

Alternate future: Americans rise up and sterilize the government.

Nate January 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm

You know, I don’t think the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell was ever officially overturned (upheld compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded).

J Cortez January 30, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I Hate Taxes said: The USA could never pass something like this and get away with it.

Respectfully, I completely disagree.

The US government has, in the past:

Ordered the extermination of ethnic groups indigenous to america, sanctioned slavery, stolen many thousand of miles of land through war, rounded up people of Japanese descent and put them in concentration camps, waged unheard of wars across the planet for no ethical reason, encouraged public discrimination, created monopolies, distorted markets, interfered in private contracts like marriage and employment, stolen property from its own citizens, stolen vast amounts of money in the form of taxation and inflation, spied on its own citizens, falsely accused and imprisoned its own citizens, sanctioned torture, suspended due process, outlawed untold number of substances like alcohol, etc.

Keep in mind, the senate and the congress voted for the financial bailout, despite the fact that practically everyone of their constituents emailed, phoned, wrote or protested against it. It says something that the government was willing to do that in the face of complete public rejection.

I don’t hold your optimism something that horrible can’t happen here.

C. Evans January 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I must agree with J Cortez. Our government has commited just about every atrocity it claims to protect us from. Albert J. Nock made a similar observation as J Cortez:
Also, in order to keep down the great American sin of self-righteousness, every public presentation ought to draw the deadly parallel with the record of the American State. The German State is persecuting a minority, just as the American State did after 1776; the Italian State breaks into Ethiopia, just as the American State broke into Mexico; the Japanese State kills off the Manchurian tribes in wholesale lots, just as the American State did the Indian tribes; the British State practices large-scale carpetbaggery, like the American State after 1864; the imperialist French State massacres native civilians on their own soil, as the American State did in pursuit of its imperialistic policies in the Pacific, and so on.

Something horrible can happen here because it has happened here.

I Hate Taxes January 30, 2009 at 2:37 pm

DD, JCortez,

Are you saying that if the government is coming to take away your property, your car, your bank account and chop your balls to sterilize you that you will just sit there and do nothing and let it all happen ?

MG January 30, 2009 at 4:02 pm

As a Dutchman, this does not surprise me at all. We have incredibly stupid/dangerous legislation like this passed daily in our parliament. After a while, you become numb to it…you cannot be bothered by it anymore.
What is even more scary is the response to the financial crisis. Out of the 150 parliamentarians, 150 are Keneysians. Even the so called ‘liberal’ parties (liberal in the sense that von Mises used the word :) are all squarely for government action and expenditures. Frightening…

I Hate Netherland January 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Hey MG,

At least we can have some consolation:

Given that your country is below sea level,
your shitty nation is soon going to be swallowed by the rising ocean due to global warming, your people will drown like they deserve, LOL !

This will help the “greater good” for the rest of mankind.

pbergn January 30, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Oh My God!

The fact that this kind of preposterous proposition is even conceivable in this day and age, and is even being seriously debated, speaks volumes on how far the State has progressed towards its ultimate goal of absolute control over the individual living beings…

This is Fascism at its worst! Simply Outrageous!

Bill R January 30, 2009 at 6:24 pm

No link to a recent news story? I found this one from November http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/minette_marrin/article5114514.ece

Bill R January 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

From the link
I gave above, a popular UK paper:

“It seems to me unfair to deny people any children at all. But it might be right to reduce the number to two. That would be fairer to taxpayers than expecting them to support families larger than their own and it might persuade genuinely unfit mothers that it is not in their interests to keep producing babies; they will be better off without.

It is time that, like Van Dijken, we started asking these extreme questions.

What the writer doesn’t mention is the Welfare State’s role in creating this widespread dependency. The intervention creates the problem and then they think the only answer is more intervention reducing Liberty yet again.

Time to reread Hayek’s Road to Serfdom guys.

Linda Jones January 30, 2009 at 7:49 pm

If one were to consider forced sterilization, perhaps it should be the men who were sterilized,……….then having lots of kids would not happen and the sex could……….hmmmm?………

Gil January 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Steriliisation would make sense if were in a contract between a person receiving government assistance and government. For example, if someone were be sterilised in exchange for long-term welfare then it would sense as a way of stopping taxpayers having to pay for multi-generation welfare recipients. Besides it’s better than the Rothbardian method of parents abandoning their children when they become too much of a bother.

newson January 30, 2009 at 11:51 pm

yeah, gil. off with your nuts in return for the dole. sounds like a real vote-winner.

Vanmind January 31, 2009 at 12:22 am

Oh, but beloved Canada was much more civilized with its attempt. Canada’s government only went after First Nations women.

What’s more: recently the Canadian government offered an apology for all past transgressions against First Nations people. I get misty just remembering the benevolent governance surrounding that day.

Reason January 31, 2009 at 12:52 am

Sterilization as prereq for public office is a more humane approach

C (The Forgotten Man) January 31, 2009 at 2:48 am

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is all the uproar about. Is this not simply “Planned Parenthood?”

prettyskin January 31, 2009 at 10:59 am

In the U.S., we have Planned Parenthood which has full support from influential organizations and great connections inside Washington D.C. For those unfamiliar with Planned Parenthood, it is in a nutshell an imposition on the girls and young women reproductive system. The elite after World War I noted that the high birth rates of poor and working-class people was a threat.

RWW January 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm

In the USA, we have the 2nd amendment !

Oh really? Last I checked, walking around on the street with a gun will get you in a bit of trouble (at best) in many places. And that’s assuming you can even purchase a gun.

RWW January 31, 2009 at 2:06 pm

The elite after World War I noted that the high birth rates of poor and working-class people was a threat.

Actually, I agree with the sentiment. Much of intelligence is genetic and so it is a problem that the less intelligent are “outbreeding us,” as it were. But the solution is not a government program or nonprofit organization. It’s simply to allow a truly free market to disincentivize childbirth among the poor.

Reason January 31, 2009 at 3:35 pm

True, too many poor folk are breeding but socio-economic statuses and non-genius attributes do not necessarily translate into bad genes:

Isaac Newton’s father was ‘an uneducated and illiterate yeoman’.

Carl Friedrich Gauss, ranked with Archimedes and Newton as one of the ´Princes of Mathematics,’ had uneducated parents, his mother was illiterate.

The great Hindu mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, was reared in a one-room adobe hut in southern India and his mathematical education consisted primarily of two books, both in a foreign languages.

Michael Faraday, the premier experimental scientist of his generation, was the self-taught son of a humble blacksmith.

Shakespeare, too, came from undistinguished genetic stock.

An American genius, Benjamin Franklin, was one of a large family and sired two children who had no special talents or abilities.

RWW January 31, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Oh, I know it all too well. I have a Ph.D. in mathematics, and I was raised by a single mother who worked at Taco Bell for most of my childhood.

However, the overwhelming trend (evidenced by empirical data and further justified by what we know of genetics and the brain) is for the relatively unintelligent to have relatively unintelligent children.

(Again, I don’t advocate any form of eugenics other than what the market would naturally provide.)

prettyskin January 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Blacks and Hispanics have been targeted for some decades by Planned Parenthood. They flooded these neighborhoods with sterilization clinics (birth control clinics).

Nazism “race building” did it to Eastern European Jews and Southern European Catholics. This ideology never went away, it just got repackaged by the United States since the early 1930′s and is visibly present today with Planned Parenthood.

Kathryn Muratore January 31, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Briggs and all – The Dutch proposal is for forced contraceptives (ie, temporary) not forced sterilization (ie, permanent). This does not make the legislation any more palatable, which is why there is no reason to exaggerate the plan.

Nate – Buck v Bell was not overturned. Skinner v Oklahoma set some limits, but the opinions upheld Buck v Bell.

Here’s a site with interesting info on the eugenics movement, which really got underway in US states and was promoted by progressives (including Margaret Sanger) whose recommendations served as the model for the Nazi programs. Both in the US and under Nazi’s, the mentally ill were initially targeted and the programs expanded to include other groups. US sterilization continued in some states into the 60′s, and (of course) became racially tainted before being shut down.

Gil – In the US, the sterilizations were often “voluntary” although they were actually coercive, just like your plan. In the case of sex offenders, for example, they could volunteer to be sterilized as a condition for parole.

Saildog February 1, 2009 at 12:21 am

All good points. But on a global basis the human population is in overshoot; there are insufficient resources to support us all; and the ability of the world to continue to act as a sink to absorb our wastes has been surpassed for a couple of decades now.

This is not a surprising conclusion, or even controversial. Overshoot has been observed many times. Google “St. Matthew’s island reindeer” for a textbook case on overshoot. Man is no different. Nor is this the first time that this has happened, though it is the first time it has happened on a global scale.

3 or more of the same 5 issues have been observed in all collapses: over population, environmental damage (deforestation very common – eg Easter Island), climate change, war; and societal factors (religion, cultural practices, poor economic policy etc). Sound familiar?

So what do we do about the base problem of all of these issues – too many people?

RWW February 1, 2009 at 12:55 am

What do you suggest, Saildog?

RWW February 1, 2009 at 1:48 am

over population, environmental damage… climate change, war; and societal factors (religion, cultural practices, poor economic policy etc). Sound familiar?

Not particularly, except the bit about war and poor economic policies, both of which are among the main targets of this blog.

The Cato Institute has some good information on the kind of baseless overpopulation fear-mongering that Saildog is engaging in. Here’s just the first one I could find:


Reason February 1, 2009 at 1:50 am

It is not a question of too many people, and especially not of too few resources. That is all hogwash emanating from statists (i.e. Samantha Power and other National Service advocates) trying to rationalize political control. What is lacking, to paraphrase Mises, is a free market ideology.

Pia Varma February 2, 2009 at 2:10 am

Sterilization and eugenics wreak both moral and economic hazard on a society. Indira Ghandi forced sterilization in India and China has the one child rule policy. China is now experiencing a drastic increase in crime and homosexuality due to the lack of females. Here is an interesting article on the problems this policy has had on China’s economy-


Pia Varma February 2, 2009 at 2:15 am

Its interesting because the most nations are either experiencing or will begin to experience an underpopulation problem. No one talks about that. Especially here in the United States. We have about 1/3 of the population about to retire and we have a pension system which relies on younger populations.

SailDog February 3, 2009 at 12:51 am

I don’t have any solutions. But is is interesting that Austrians refuse to accept sound ecological observation of overshoot. “Hogwash” was one response and one other person even defined the problem as underpopulation. The inability of this discipline to accept the knowledge and learning of others and the naive belief that human action, if only it could be left unfettered (within a proper legal structure of private property law) will fix everything.

It is a fact that several societies down the ages have overshot. I mentioned just one. If there had been some Easter Islander Austrian School economists they would no doubt have been arguing that the perceived (and felt) lack of resources was “hogwash”.

The ethical solution is education, particularly of women, but I am not sure that is enough. I think a die back is inevitable. Is is it better to allow famine and war reduce population?

Globally, there is a real energy crisis. Modern society needs more energy than is available.

Reason February 3, 2009 at 1:06 am


Can you name one modern famine or war that was not created politically?

sailDog February 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm

What is “modern”? One could argue that the whole of human history is “modern” seeing as we have been here for very little of the 4.5bn years Earth has been a planet.

Reason February 3, 2009 at 8:06 pm


Brilliant evasion. But what about the Bolshevik subjugation of the Ukraine? Or the results of Mao’s Great Leap Forward? How do you account for the Great Famines of Ethiopia, i.e.1973 or 1983-5?

You think these tragedies were consequences of “overshoot” or some other kind of deterministic force at work? Are civil wars and totalitarianism a product of “overshoot” as well?

Philip Pilkington March 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Although I agree that trying to ressurect the old eugenics programs of the 20th century is extremely misguided, trying to pin this on the left or even on the so-called “nanny state” is equally so.

There are, without a doubt, serious problems with certain people having children who are clearly incapable of raising them. But the implication that this is due to “farming children” to pull down welfare gains is absolutely ridiculous. One could just as easily argue that a free-market system encourages “farming children” as assets which lazy parents can lean on – this happens, for example, in bad neighbourhoods in the US; the children are used for drug distribution; and also in the emerging Eastern European states, where children can be used for prostitution.

But beyond either of these extreme and highly reductionist arguments the realities are much more complex. And due to this any application of ideology in such sweeping assertions – whether left-wing or right-wing – cannot fail to come across as hysterical and absurd.

Dylan May 10, 2009 at 10:08 pm

this bill contends that to sterilize unfit mothers is of benefit to the mothers themselves; that they will profit by “getting their lives in order…” But is it the Dutch Government’s right to protect an unfit mother from herSELF? From her potential, unborn infant, perhaps, but that it is mere speculation ANYWAY! Regardless, it should not be the responsibility of governments to protect people from THEMSELVES…from others, yes, but not at the expense of personal autonomy. And the greatest autonomy of all is the sole and sovereign right to one’s body. This is a kind of state-rape. Literally.

The very fact that this bill hinges on such a tenuous suggestion as benefiting the women themselves is disgusting and ridiculous. I used to respect Dutch politics, being a gay man. But, you treat blacks like shit, why not women, too?!

Dylan May 10, 2009 at 10:08 pm

this bill contends that to sterilize unfit mothers is of benefit to the mothers themselves; that they will profit by “getting their lives in order…” But is it the Dutch Government’s right to protect an unfit mother from herSELF? From her potential, unborn infant, perhaps, but that it is mere speculation ANYWAY! Regardless, it should not be the responsibility of governments to protect people from THEMSELVES…from others, yes, but not at the expense of personal autonomy. And the greatest autonomy of all is the sole and sovereign right to one’s body. This is a kind of state-rape. Literally.

The very fact that this bill hinges on such a tenuous suggestion as benefiting the women themselves is disgusting and ridiculous. I used to respect Dutch politics, being a gay man. But, you treat blacks like shit, why not women, too?!

Amy June 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

The world does a pretty good job of bumping us off in natural ways, such as Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc. There are lots of people having children, but there are more people dying. Most countries aren’t at the 2.4 population stabilization birthrate. America is right at it, and most of Europe is either the same or below.

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