Now Popular in Venezuela? Sterilization Day

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Breitbart News reported recently that the Miranda clinic in Caracas is now sterilizing 40 women a week during its weekly “sterilization day” and has a waiting list of 500 women.

Government officials announced that the nation had run its supply of birth control out in July 2015. Venezuela has run out of most medicines. Most contraceptives are hard to come by and prohibitively expensive when available on the black market. The result of this lack of contraceptive supplies has been an astronomical increase in the number of teenage pregnancies nationwide. Sterilizations are provided free of charge under Venezuela’s state-subsidized health care.

The sterilization is done by cutting or obliterating a woman’s fallopian tubes (also known as salpingoclasia or tubal ligation), the upper third of which is where fertilization occurs. Without intact Fallopian tubes, the sperm cells are unable to reach the egg cells thus preventing fertilization.

Though similiar in aim to other contraceptives, (the pill, IUD, spermacides and condoms) sterilization is different in one significant respect: it is permanent. Reversing a sterilization is difficult at best and often impossible. It is therefore even more gravely immoral than other contraceptives.

While avoiding pregnancy in difficult times, preventing health issues of a potential mother and preventing teenage pregnancy can all be well intentioned, good intentions cannot justify gravely immoral methods (means).

Men’s and women’s reproductive systems are designed to work so that both gametes can meet in the fallopian tube of the woman. Undergoing a sterilization procedure (tubal ligation for a woman or a vasectomy for a man) is not only against the therapeutic principle (it is not a treatment for illness or disease—as discussed further below), in that it attacks the physical integrity of a woman’s reproductive system when no illness or disease is present, it is also against the natural law.

Permanence

Given its permanence, other aggravating factors, e.g. coercion, exacerbate the immorality of the act. When sterilization is forced, the women’s will and liberty are not taken into account. Nor does coercion allow for informed consent which in a true medical (therapeutic) situation would disclose all risks related to the procedure. Furthermore, in the case of couples, this decision has to be taken, not only by the woman, but also by the man.

Governments, as defenders of individuals’ inalienable rights, should protect couples’ right to decide on the number and spacing of their children. Policies such as the one-child policy in China are evidence of what the promotion and facilitation of sterilization portend. What may now seem to be justified by the social, medical and economic difficulties in Venezuela, is more likely subtle coercion. Any government promotion of sterilization days, only empowers that government to continue and expand its role as arbitrator of people’s fertility.

Against the Therapeutic Principle

From the medical point of view, sterilization is not good medicine because it violates the therapeutic principle.

By way of example, consider a woman with severe health issues such as cardiac, pancreatic, hepatic or lung disease. For this woman, pregnancy might well aggravate her condition and pose a health risk. However, a tubal ligation, while most certainly preventing a possible pregnancy, mutilates a healthy part of the body and does nothing to heal the sick organ. Cutting the fallopian tubes thus violates the therapeutic principle and is gravely immoral.

Furthermore, secondary effects of this procedure must be taken into account. Surgery, any surgery, entails risk. It is wrong to undertake such risk where there is no health problem per se. The sterilization surgery provides no direct benefit to a sick woman. In contrast, an appendectomy also entails risk. But, the risk is undertaken because there is an ill appendix that could, and very likely will, rupture, causing severe complications such as peritonitis and septicemia.

Salpingoclasia can also have psychological consequences to the woman, especially relating to her natural maternal desire and instincts.

Broader Social Implications

From a demographic point of view, which is also a material circumstance, the richness of a nation are its people. When children are no longer accepted in a country more than young lives are lost. The risk of suicide increases for all ages, while nations become old and civilizations decline.

Venezuela has many problems—medical, social, political, economic—but sterilization won’t solve any of them. Sterilization does one thing: it prevents children indefinitely. Children are the hope of the world. And hope is something Venezuela desperately needs.

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Dr. Pilar Calva