Paying Drug Addicts to Not Have Children Raises Moral Questions About Preventing Drug Babies

Project Prevention, a North Carolina based non-profit, has developed a new way of dealing with babies born into drug addiction—preventing them. Project Prevention offers $300 to drug addicted women and men in the United States to undergo sterilization or long-term birth control (they had a short stint in the UK, but the public outcry shut them down). Project Prevention was founded by Barbara Harris, a California native who fostered four babies born into addiction. Harris, during an interview with BBC, said she started the program because she “. . . had two options: one was nothing, and that wasn’t an option for me. So I just talked to a law professor that I knew, asked if I could pay drug addicts to be responsible and use birth control, and when he told me I could, that’s what we did.”

Project Prevention has had an array of responses, which jointly show the moral complexity behind the non-profit’s mission. Is it morally “ok” to sell away your ability to procreate? What’s more, is it “ok” to buy off another person’s ability to have a family? Harris’ defensive is this: they are adults, making adult decisions.  If someone values $300 dollars more than their ability to have a family, then they are entering a voluntary trade that is mutually beneficial. It’s economics at their finest. What is left out of Harris’ equation is the question “Exactly how much agency does the client have?” If you wave $300 dollars in the face of a drug addict for a quick, one time procedure, what would scream louder: their habit, or their will? What fuels the issue is Harris’ apparent lack of respect for the mothers’ struggle. When Harris was asked about whether or not she was essentially paying for her client’s drugs, she said “Some people might spend the money on drugs, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to.” Harris’ heart is for the babies, but her hard lined approach towards the mothers is doing little to help her cause.

Five mothers, all of whom are in recovery, came together to make a video that speaks out against Project Prevention. They worry that the initiative does little to help and only spreads misleading stereotypes about drug addicts. “They only see one thing,” says Dinah, a mother of two “they see a poor, Spanish, white, black, whatever, drug addict. They don’t see a mother who loves her kids, who would give her life for her kids.” At least publically, it seems that Harris ignores the complexity nature that’s inherent in being a human. She ignores the society that bred the drug addict, opting to trim back the issue rather than pull it up by the roots.

No one can claim that Harris’ mission isn’t noble. There are mothers across the country that simply shouldn’t be mothers, and if I had to guess, I bet most of them don’t want to be either. That said, Harris is offering nothing more than a quick fix. We need to attack this issue at its core. We live in a country where 48% of drug addicts can’t get treatment, even when they actively are reaching out for help. We’re in the midst of possibly the greatest collective stride towards true equality that this nation has ever seen, but I fear Project Prevention will hold us back.

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Tim O'Donoghue

Did my growin' up in Western MA, my best summers were spent running barely clothed in hippy-dippy Quaker camp, and I'm goin' to a hippy-dippy Quaker college were I study hippy things, and I love every bit of it.

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