Sterilization of disabled should be banned, says Australian report

Sterilization of intellectually disabled people should be banned unless they can consent, an Australian Senate Committee has recommended (see report). And taking children overseas to be sterilized should be made a criminal offense.

At the moment, sterilization is an option in Australia if it is in the best interests of the child. However, a report in 2011 by a United Nations human rights council declared that this policy violated children's rights.

The committee says that there is a place for sterilization, if a child is truly incapable of giving informed consent. But it believes that this very seldom happens. "The committee expects that, with appropriate supported decision-making, there will be very few Australians who altogether lack decision-making capacity," says the report.

One example of the potentially devastating consequences of sterilization came from a 34-year-old woman who told the committee that her parents organised a hysterectomy for her when she was 12 and told her that her appendix was being removed.

She said: "If they'd told the truth and asked me, I would have shouted 'no!'... My sterilisation makes me feel I'm less of a woman when I have sex because I'm not normal down there … When I see other mums holding their babies, I look away and cry because I won't ever know that happiness."

The report's recommendations have been quite controversial as many parents are convinced that sterilization is the best way to avoid stress for their children and sexual abuse.

But Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes insists that sterilization is a breach of human rights and should be banned. "My concern is often that the best interest of the person with a disability is interpreted in a very broad way which in fact can include the best interests of members of family and carers." 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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