J.J. AMY, Dept. of
Gynaecology, Andrology and Obstetrics, Academisch Ziekenhuis, Vrije
Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.
certain circumstances one can envision that the right to reproduce should not
be unlimited. Such limitation may for
instance apply to carriers of serious inheritable diseases or mentally retarded
people. But also harsh social
conditions may require to restrict population growth in a given community. The difficulty consists in defining the
legally and ethically acceptable means of implementing such limitations. The government may stipulate that people
should not have more than a certain number of children. For the sake of the general interest, health
workers may participate in the implementation of such a policy, in particular
by providing information, but should never take any part in coercive
contraceptive or sterilisation practices.
Between 1935 and 1976, more than 60
000 people were submitted in Sweden to enforced sterilisation for behavioural
problems, or eugenic or economic reasons.
In Pennsylvania, one had started with sterilising people against their
will in 1904; exactly forty years later coercive sterilisation had become legal
in no less than 30 American states. It
is estimated that more than 60 000 people underwent an enforced sterilisation
in the USA between 1930 and 1960. These
procedures were also carried out for equally unfounded indications in Denmark
(from 1929 onwards), Finland (1939), France, Norway (1934), Switzerland (1925),
and Japan. Five months before the nazis
took power, a law was promulgated in Germany that recommended that certain
people be sterilised, on the same grounds as in Sweden and the USA. It is thought that some 360 000 people were
sterilised in Germany, in accordance with that law, between 1933 and 1945. The aforementioned facts illustrate that
authoritarian patterns of thought were prevailing during the first half of the
20th century in many more countries than those under fascist rule.
recently long-acting contraception (e.g. Norplant®), albeit reversible and less
aggressive than sterilisation, has been used in a legal but highly questionable
social context in the USA. It is
extremely distressing to learn that certain people (e.g. gypsies) living in
Eastern European countries should still be submitted to coercive sterilisation
practices. This is clearly a case of
infringement on basic human rights.