First £200 vasectomy ‘bribe’ paid to British drug addict
Drugs charities have condemned a £200 payment to a British drug addict for having a vasectomy as “exploitative” and morally and ethically dubious.
The incentive payment, the first in the UK, was made to a 38-year-old opiates addict from Leicester, known as John, by a controversial US organisation targeting drug and alcohol abusers.
Project Prevention, set up by Barbara Harris from North Carolina, has been compared by US critics to the Nazi eugenics programme. After paying more than 3,500 mainly female American addicts not to have children, it is now offering the service in the UK after a $20,000 (£12,500) donation from an anonymous US businessman living in Britain.
John, an addict for 15 years, told the Inside Out programme on BBC1 in London he would spend the money on overdue rent and shopping. “It [the money] was kind of what spurred me into doing it in a way,” he said. “It was something I’d been thinking about for a long time and something that I’d already made my mind up that I wanted to do. Just hadn’t got round to it.”
Harris, who adopted four children born to a crack addict mother, began her personal crusade 12 years ago after witnessing children damaged by their mothers’ addictions. She believes “bribing” addicts to be sterilised or to use long-term contraceptives prevents child abuse.
But Addaction, a British drugs and alcohol charity, said Project Prevention was exploitative, with addicts being approached “at their lowest ebb”, and feared the cash would end up in the hands of dealers helping to perpetuate the problem.
“It doesn’t deal with addicts who are already parents, it doesn’t help people recover and it doesn’t offer any positive solution,” said Addaction’s chief executive, Simon Antrobus.
The charity DrugScope said the approach was “exploitative, ethically dubious and morally questionable”. Its chief executive, Martin Barnes, said the premise that people with drug problems should be sterilised “further entrenches the significant stigmatisation and demonisation experienced by this group, making it less likely that people will come forward for help and support when they need it most”.
“And where should the line be drawn?” he asked. “Who would be targeted next – people who smoke, have mental health problems, or live in poverty?”
The British Medical Association ethics committee discussed the issue last month. It said the committee “does not have a view” on Project Prevention, but believed the focus of any consultation for sterilisation or long-term contraception “must be on the overall interests of the patient”. The committee believed doctors should inform patients “of the benefits of reversible contraception so that the patients have more reproductive choices in the future”.
Harris told the BBC that as she watched her adopted children struggle with the addiction passed on to them by their mother she got “very angry about the damage that these drugs do to children”. Initially directed at their mother, her anger then “turned a little bit to why did we allow her to do that?”
“I’ve been called everything. I’ve been spat on. Typically I just say to my critics, ‘If you believe these women should continue to take drugs and have children, then step up in line and adopt their babies’. It’s that simple.”
John, who called the helpline, had 30 days to think about his decision and had the procedure on the NHS in mid-September.
“It came as a bit of a shock to me knowing I was the first in Britain,” he said. “I won’t be able to support a kid. I can just about manage to support myself. Just about got it together to do that.”
Harris’s US critics have labelled her a rightwing religious zealot, though she insists her project is not “God’s work”, and she is not a regular churchgoer.
She has never tried drugs herself but has has disclosed that family members have.
She likened her intervention to charities paying sex workers to stay off the streets at the time of the Ipswich prostitute murders in 2006 and a scheme to offer smokers in parts of Scotland £50 a month to quit.
Harris has said her next project will be in Haiti, where women “who are having children they can’t even feed” will be offered Depo-Provera.