sterilization of the mentally retarded


#1

Can someone tell me the Church’s position on birth control and sterilization of mentally retarded persons. I am assuming that it is against the dignity of those persons regardless of mental ability and that our responsibility is to protect them against being taken advantage of, but what if they give the consent to sexual relations? Can they freely consent? Do they have full knowledge? I don’t know where exactly to look. I haven’t found anything in the CCC.
Thanks.


#2

[quote=mariadevotee]Can someone tell me the Church’s position on birth control and sterilization of mentally retarded persons. I am assuming that it is against the dignity of those persons regardless of mental ability and that our responsibility is to protect them against being taken advantage of, but what if they give the consent to sexual relations? Can they freely consent? Do they have full knowledge? I don’t know where exactly to look. I haven’t found anything in the CCC.
Thanks.
[/quote]

The CCC covers it when it says that sterilization and contraception are intrinsically disordered. That means always wrong. There are no exceptions.

from paragraph 2370: In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil

from paragraph 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).


#3

[quote=mariadevotee]Can someone tell me the Church’s position on birth control and sterilization of mentally retarded persons. I am assuming that it is against the dignity of those persons regardless of mental ability and that our responsibility is to protect them against being taken advantage of, but what if they give the consent to sexual relations? Can they freely consent? Do they have full knowledge? I don’t know where exactly to look. I haven’t found anything in the CCC.
Thanks.
[/quote]

Well, since Canon Law says:
Can. 1095 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:

1ƒ those who lack sufficient use of reason;

2ƒ those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted;

3ƒ those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

If the degree of mental retardation is sufficient for the person to fall under these categories, then they can’t get married and sex would never be ok for them. Whoever is their guardian should take care that it never happens, thus sterilization and ABC shouldn’t even be an issue. I don’t know what laws there are out there, but if someone has a high degree of mental retardation they need a guardian and they shouldn’t be able to be in a situation where they can participate in intercourse if they decided to. Even if the laws allowed it (which I don’t think they do, though there are some crazy laws out there) the guardian should take care of the person to avoid this type of situation. If someone lack’s sufficient reason they don’t have full knowledge and cannot freely consent. One wouldn’t say a child has full knowledge to freely consent in an act, so one cannot say that a person that has the mental state of a young child can have full knowledge. If we wouldn’t give ABC’s to a child just in case, why give them to a person that has the mental state of a child?


#4

[quote=lifeisbeautiful]If we wouldn’t give ABC’s to a child just in case, why give them to a person that has the mental state of a child?
[/quote]

I know this is a rhetorical question, but the reason it comes up is because it is not like a child, some fantasy just in case scenario. The individual is probably in a group home and, sadly, such a person could show up pregnant repeatedly. Hence, someone in charge somewhere naturally thinks about contraception or sterilization as a way to solve the problem. Contraception may be an unlikely choice since contraception usually relies upon the user, so the administrator might wonder about sterilization as a possible choice. My point here is that the question is not moot.

I do think some mentally retarded individuals can consent and marry, so it would be especially outrageous to sterilize them.


#5

Sadly, it did happen a lot and still does. My grand-aunt was sterilized in the forties since she was a “ward of the state.” The laws at that time were atrocious and some still are. Her case stemmed from the debate on contraception during the thirties. Even though she was a Catholic the state said it had an obligation to protect her since she “could not care for herself during her monthly menses.” (Whatever that meant…she could have been easily taught like any other 8 year old girl who begins menses early.)

My great-grandmother was poor and could not afford to take on the state. I remember during my childhood hearing my great-grandmother pray the rosary all the time. She told me once after praying how sad she was that she hadn’t been able to protect her daughter. Interestingly the sterilization seemed to have happened even though the daughter lived with the family. I don’t know how the state could just come in and take her? I think it was recommended by a doctor at the time. I would do some family history on it but it might just bring up past pain.

All I can say is the culture of death won out in her case. She was an amazing lady with incredible gifts. She could have been a great wife and mother had she had some help. It was never even considered that she might have been able to marry. It just wasn’t done at the time. I’m so glad that has changed now.


#6

[quote=Pug]I know this is a rhetorical question, but the reason it comes up is because it is not like a child, some fantasy just in case scenario. The individual is probably in a group home and, sadly, such a person could show up pregnant repeatedly. Hence, someone in charge somewhere naturally thinks about contraception or sterilization as a way to solve the problem. Contraception may be an unlikely choice since contraception usually relies upon the user, so the administrator might wonder about sterilization as a possible choice. My point here is that the question is not moot.

I do think some mentally retarded individuals can consent and marry, so it would be especially outrageous to sterilize them.
[/quote]

If they can consent to marry (if they don’t lack sufficient use of reason and they don’t suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted, and they don’t have causes of a psychological nature, that make them unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage) then they can get married (provided they don’t have any other impediment to marry), and children are a fruit of marriage so there should be no problems here. They are like any other adult that should not engage in premarital sex. I think this is not the case the OP was talking about, though.

If they live in a home, and don’t have sufficient use of reason, then shouldn’t they have a guardian taking care of them? Aren’t they treated pretty much like minors since they cannot take care of themselves? Would they be allowed to have intercourse in such homes? If that is the case, the solution would be to change that rather than trying to sterilize them. Even from a secular point of view, with the sex out of marriage is ok mentality, it doesn’t make sense. They don’t have sufficient reason to fully know what they are doing and the consequences it could have, aside from the fact that they could transmit diseases to each other. BTW, very often mentally retarded people are sterile, so diseases etc. could be more of a problem than pregnancies, and this will not be solved by sterilization nor ABC’s. Are minors allowed to have intercourse in homes for children? I mean, if you have 12 year old and a 13 year old in a home for children it could happen. The solution would not be to give the girl ABC pills.


#7

[quote=lifeisbeautiful]If they live in a home, and don’t have sufficient use of reason, then shouldn’t they have a guardian taking care of them? Aren’t they treated pretty much like minors since they cannot take care of themselves? Would they be allowed to have intercourse in such homes?
[/quote]

Obviously the guardian ought to prevent intercourse in this situation, but that’s what I mean. The state can’t do a perfect job of this! I am familiar with the operation of a children’s home (they are not retarded). It is outrageously difficult to keep them separated without locking them in separate rooms or chaining them up (no one does this). Retarded individuals can move about at will and some of them may want to have sex and try to get around being observed, more than a regular child would (retarded people can like sex, they’re adults). The level of monitoring required to keep them free and yet sex-free is high. Who pays for that? I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay, just that these places are often on a shoestring, and the state is always late with any financing. It costs money to have someone stare at their bedroom doors all night, and more to have a second person to stare during bathroom breaks. What if the money to do so doesn’t exist?

I could see someone seeing that sterilization would be a way to prevent repeated abortions in a situation where the sexual activity is not completely controlled. Controlling the situation is the correct course!

Honestly, I hope this becomes more speculation as time goes on. Part of my experience is drawn from years ago, so maybe the world is a perfect place now. I hope so, anyway.


#8

What some of you are failing to appreciate here is the sensitivity of the issue when something happens such as, say, the molestation of a post-pubescent female at a school for the developmentally delayed, that could go undetected until it is too late, i.e., that female has been raped, and they don’t know who did it. What then?

These are real choices, by real people, who have to make real decisions. Sure, you can certainly discuss Church teaching, but you have to show some understanding of the concerns of the parents or care-givers of these innocents.

You can thank the Lord if you are not faced with such decisions.


#9

[quote=malibu364]What some of you are failing to appreciate here is the sensitivity of the issue when something happens such as, say, the molestation of a post-pubescent female at a school for the developmentally delayed, that could go undetected until it is too late, i.e., that female has been raped, and they don’t know who did it. What then?

[/quote]

Maybe I misunderstood your point, but how would sterilizing help detect a rape? Wouldn’t that be an incentive for someone that knows the young woman is sterile? And, too late for what?


#10

Yes, you did misunderstand my point. In effect, I am making a similar point to the ones Pug made. That is, some of these people, who are either children or like children, cannot possibly be monitored every single hour of every single day.

Sterilizing wouldn’t prevent a rape, but would prevent a physcially developed, but mentally and emotionally underdeveloped person the trial of pregnancy.

It might be an incentive for a pervert, but if a pervert wants to molest someone like this, they are not likely to be weighing a whole lot of ethical considerations anyway, you think?

If a physically developed but mentally underdeveloped female, gets raped and impregnated, it’s too late then to do anything about it, right? That’s what I mean by too late.


#11

[quote=malibu364]Yes, you did misunderstand my point. In effect, I am making a similar point to the ones Pug made. That is, some of these people, who are either children or like children, cannot possibly be monitored every single hour of every single day.

Sterilizing wouldn’t prevent a rape, but would prevent a physcially developed, but mentally and emotionally underdeveloped person the trial of pregnancy.

It might be an incentive for a pervert, but if a pervert wants to molest someone like this, they are not likely to be weighing a whole lot of ethical considerations anyway, you think?

If a physically developed but mentally underdeveloped female, gets raped and impregnated, it’s too late then to do anything about it, right? That’s what I mean by too late.
[/quote]

When I said incentive, I didn’t mean morally. If ayoung woman is being abused and no one is finding out, then pregnancy may be the one sure tell sign the predator will try to avoid. I see what you are trying to say, but I still see it as trying to solve one wrong with another wrong.


#12

So it seems like the primary concern is the guardianship? Yes, developmentally delayed people need to be monitored according to their mental age.

Why my family was so upset in the 40’s is because they were doing just fine monitoring my aunt and could have easily taught her to care for herself.

It seems like sterilization in a group home is just another way for those folks to take an ethical short-cut in how they monitor their charges.


#13

I am the legal-guardian, care-giver for my sisiter-in-law. She is anywhere from age three to eight cognitively. As a very young girl she was sexually abused by a relative. She did not become pregnant, thank God, but it did leave her with a fear of being touched. One has to really earn her respect in order to care for her needs. I cannot imagine sterilizing her would have helped her in any way. The behavior of the “trusted” relative or friend, is something that family members and caregivers must protect the DD person from.

Love and peace


#14

Mom of 5, thank you for explaining a real-life situation. I’ll give another.

My wife and I have a sixteen-year old severely developmentally delayed daughter. Although she is fully developed physically, she cannot walk (other than knee walk), or talk (she verbalizes and understands some commands, but does not utter any words). At this point she has the mental capacity of anywhere from two to four years. She is on medication for seizures. She will never develop to an “age of reason”. We have two other normal children and we all love “our little angel” dearly, and none of us would give a second thought of giving up our life to save hers. I am reasonably sure that anyone who shares in these forums would feel the same way, so our family is nothing special.

My wife and I have talked about the possibility that she could be sexually abused at school. It’s not likely to happen, but it could happen. That was the only context in which I brought the subject up with my spouse. Knowing the Church teaching, we haven’t taken any action on sterilization, and would certainly consult our pastor and the archbishop of our diocese before even considering it.

Sterilization would only “help” to prevent a pregnancy if somehow she were sexually abused. I’m not openly suggesting this as a solution, only a matter that as a parent or guardian you cannot simply just dismiss. I cannot say with absolute certitude, therefore, that sterilization is always intrinsically disordered.

In general, sterilization of mentally retarded persons as a matter of standard practice is a morally repugnant proposition.


#15

Well, as a father of a three year old with Down Syndrome this thread is quite interesting. Through my dealings with various support groupls, I have heard a story in which a young man with DS married a girl with DS whom he met while attending a two year college program for young adults with developmenal disabilities. Apperantly his mental awareness and capabilities were quite good and he and his new found love were considered high function.

On another note, I know a 40 year old man with DS who is very bright and high funtioning as well. He actually has a driver’s license and goes on dates with his girlfriend. To talk to him, one would see him as a very smart and mature individual.

They definately experience an attraction to the opposite sex just like non DS people do. I am not sure if it would be right to forbid them from this experience, however, it would definately not be okay to allow them to be parents.

The thing is, no matter how “High Functioning” these kids are, there is still a very childlike quality about them. I could never see them as parents. Although most boys with DS are born sterile, some are not. Most girls with DS are fully capable of becoming pregnant. Girls with DS who become pregnant will almost always give birth to a child with DS.

So what does a parent do? Do I forbid my daughter the experience of an affectionate boy with DS showing interest in her? Do I raise my daughter with the notion that she can never have a “boyfriend”? That she can never go see a movie with a boy, or go to a school dance? Obviously there would always be a chaperone, but where does a parent draw the line?

I’m not looking for answers as my daughter is only three. I am just typing out loud to share the thoughts of a parent of a special needs child. I’m am confident that the answers will come all to soon!


#16

[quote=RichT]I’m not looking for answers as my daughter is only three. I am just typing out loud to share the thoughts of a parent of a special needs child. I’m am confident that the answers will come all to soon!
[/quote]

RichT,

The Lord will lead you to the correct course! Thanks for sharing your story. Although I don’t have a down’s child, I’ve known several of them (as adults). The issue is meaningful to me.


#17

There were laws on the books in many states up until quite recently that allowed for forced sterilization of people who were considered unfit to reproduce. The concept of eugenics was not foreign to the United States. And the debate rages on today. Many of the illnesses that today are recognized as not having a genetic component or not having an affect upon a person’s ability to effectively care for their child were used as reasons to forcibly sterilize young girls and women. Epileptics were forcibly sterilized in the 1920’s. Women alcoholics and drug addicts who were supporting their habits through prostitution and were later confined to mental institutions were forcibly sterilized.

I work in the Social Services and Health Care agencies for the government and don’t think this kind of debate is not very active today. There is a loud and strong political movement in this country that believe that the 'flotsam and jetsam" (forgive my lousy spelling) should be forcibly sterilized so as to prevent them from having ‘more welfare babies’. That mentally ill woman in San Francisco who recently murdered her children by tossing them off the pier is used as an example of someone who should have been forced to have her uterus removed so as to prevent her from ever having children.

It is a sensitive subject.


#18

[quote=LSK] Many of the illnesses that today are recognized as not having a genetic component or not having an affect upon a person’s ability to effectively care for their child were used as reasons to forcibly sterilize young girls and women. Epileptics were forcibly sterilized in the 1920’s.
[/quote]

That’s right! My grand-aunt was an epileptic. That WAS why they sterilized her. I forgot! Thank you for the heads-up. Obviously it was still happening in the 30’s too. Now that I think about it since she was born in 1920 she was probably sterilized in about 1932 not the 40’s like I thought.


#19

OK, I found a document from the Vatican that addresses the issue:

“To subject such persons - who are often unable to give truly informed consent - to contraception, sterilization or, worse, abortion as a matter of official policy is a practice that is not only unethical, but can also jeopardize their psychological development.”

Taken from the
CONCLUSIONS OF A VATICAN CONFERENCE ON THE FAMILY AND INTEGRATION OF THE DISABLED


#20

i myself is mentally challenged and i had my parents get me sterilized when i was 20 years old because i’m not mentally capable of raising children. it was for my best interest to be sterilized.


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