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.
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.