Reproductive rights and responsibilities

Hastings Cent Rep. May-Jun 1994;24(3):15-6.


PIP: While positive procreative liberty, that is, the right to have a child, seems to exist in the US, thousands of mentally retarded people have been involuntarily sterilized. Therefore, the definition of procreative liberty remains unclear and depends on whether the right to procreate is interpreted as simply meaning the right to genetic replication or as the right to create children coupled with the intent and ability to rear them. Genetic connection has significance only within the context of establishing a family, and genetic replication otherwise is not an interest which society needs to protect. Therefore, someone incapable of being a rearing parent would not have procreative autonomy, and it follows that severely retarded people who can not raise children do not have a right to reproduce. Rather than violating procreative autonomy, involuntary sterilization in such cases may be the most humane and effective way of protecting retarded women from pregnancy. The use of contraceptive implants, considered by some a "less restrictive alternative," makes no sense given that no interest is being protected by allowing for future procreation in such cases. Also, sterilization may result in fewer risks and side effects than temporary measures. A related issue, the mandatory use of contraceptives such as Norplant dictated by some judges in child abuse cases, is morally and legally problematic but this action does show that the judges regard parenthood as a responsibility as well as a right.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal*
  • Contraception*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Sterilization, Involuntary*
  • United States