We spay cats and dogs, why not people?

Readers respond to Daniel Costello's profile of an organization that provides voluntary paid sterilization services to drug addicts. Plus -- Saddam Hussein and the return of the mustache.

Published April 14, 2003 6:13PM (EDT)

[Read "Is CRACK wack?" by Daniel Costello.]

I could not agree more with the concept of sterilizing unfit parents. I have ALWAYS thought that reproduction should not be a right, but a privilege -- in fact at least as much of an earned privilege as holding an automobile license.

If I were running the world, all humans would be reversibly sterilized at birth. Only after achieving basic education and a passing grade in a parenting class would a member of either sex be permitted to reproduce. It is criminal that children are allowed to be born into less than proper care: household dogs and cats are spayed based on this reasoning -- why not people?

-- Penn Moulton

It's really a sad commentary on our greedy and sometimes hateful society that our preoccupation with making a buck causes certain members of our society to turn to self-destruction because they can't fit in, or are forced to fit into a very negative predefined box. Before the advent of AIDS in rural Africa, you didn't get disturbed unwed pregnant teenaged girls on crack. You had naturally beautiful well-adjusted wed (or unwed) teenaged girls who got pregnant and had their children taken care of by their large extended families. There was no stigma about teenage pregnancy. Drugs including hemp did not and still don't play a role in the lives of most rural Africans.

AIDS sadly has changed things in the Third World. Teenaged pregnancy now carries the risk of HIV infection and AIDS orphans, as the extended families are being decimated.

Sterilisation is not the solution. Some people need more emotional support and help than others do. Our rich society should create structures to help these people. A repeatedly pregnant teenaged crack addict is an extremely sad story. She's not a criminal, she's someone who needs help.

-- Ed Cunion

It would take a whole newspaper to describe the feelings of addicts while in addiction, but I know for certain that no addict gives birth to babies "without a care in the world," as Ms. Harris put it.

I find it appalling that CRACK has staffers, branches in 28 cities and an annual budget, while residential treatment centers are having such a hard time getting funds. These centers are cost-effective and would provide parents and children with psychological counseling, education, job skills and, most important, break the cycle of addiction. Keeping the family together has proven to be the largest deterrent to drug use and crime but we continue to be an impatient nation looking for quick fixes.

-- Mary Barr

I applaud Barbara Harris' efforts, but it does not surprise me that she has her share of detractors. It seems that there are many supporters of the right of addicts to dump babies on the world that nobody wants (least of all themselves.) If you feel this way, then please step up and adopt a crack-addicted baby. Just one will suffice. Until you do, I have no interest in your opinions on the matter.

-- Bill Ravdin

Short answer: No.

I have long been of the belief that most people who reproduce do so for the wrong reasons -- and, considering the state of our violent, over-burdened, over-consumed world, I wonder truly if there exist any right reasons. To see people criticizing a program that is trying to stem the tide of misery that comes from the drug-addicted, obeying urges no more deep than a hiccup, passing on drug-addled existence itself to the next generation like an STD is enough to make me want to vomit. Comparing the truly compassionate motives of Ms. Harris to those of Adolf Hitler simply demonstrates why the American left is, for all its lofty intentions, becoming increasingly shrill and irrelevant.

More power to you, Ms. Harris. My check is in the mail.

-- Reynald A. Perry

Hitleresque eugenics? Someone should go back and read their history. This organization provides either sterilization or long-term birth control to men or women who come to them. In fact, it pays more money to women who choose long-term birth control over sterilization, hardly the stuff of eugenics. They provide the same services my doctor offers me, but I just have to pay for it myself.

Far from "preying on the poor," this organization is helping the families of these drug-addicted women. Many drug addicts still have caring families who are left year after year to pick up the pieces left by the addicts in their lives. From caring for their children, to praying for hope, to desperately trying to get the addict treatment, these families are stuck dealing with the chaotic whirlwind that surrounds them.

Worse, these kids are born to parents who don't really want them and are utterly unable to care for them. This leaves the family and the rest of the society to face the dilemma: Who is going to take in this child? Who's going to pay all of the legal bills to a "child welfare system" that puts more emphasis on the parent's rights than those of the child, who never asked for this situation?

Who's going to take on a child in legal limbo and hope they can get permanent custody to keep the child from bouncing back and forth to the drug addict when she or he goes into an all-too-brief period of sobriety?

Poorer families have less access to medical care, less access to lawyers and an entirely reasonable distrust of the child welfare agencies and the juvenile justice centers. Poor families of these drug addicts can't call up their lawyers on retainer to fix the problem. Then there are the children who have to grow up, watching their biological parents spiral downward. If you don't think this is destructive, you've never had a 6-year-old ask why his mommy couldn't get off of heroin.

Should we then turn a blind eye to the misery and suffering caused by the consequences of their irresponsible actions? Should we shut down a program that mitigates this misery by making sure that the drug addict will have to make a conscious decision to have a child, rather than leave it up to chance and momentary desire? Most drug addicts know their lives are messed up, and many realize that they cannot care for children. Why deny them the option?

-- Vanessa Bateman

[Read "The 'Stache Is Back," by Shana Ting Lipton.]

Thanks Shana Ting Lipton for your great article on the rebirth of the mustache. During a recent screening of the sophomoric yet irresistible flick "Super Troopers," my pals and I were so overcome with admiration for the cast's 'staches that we immediately declared a pact that we would each grow a lip rug for a month. While various significant others bitched and complained, it made our vow all the more enjoyable and also made for great conversation starters ("Why the hell are you growing that thing?" was chief among queries).

Let's be thankful that a whole generation to whom the 'stache was anathema has learned its value.

-- Zach Hanner

Perhaps this new trend is a subconscious tribute to the ultimate symbol of machismo, Saddam Hussein. Regardless of how one personally feels about Saddam, he does have a very impressive and ubiquitous mustache. So ubiquitous that it has come to symbolize toughness and defiance, thus providing fellow mustachers the appearance of toughness without the need to put up one's dukes (much like the tough image of Hummer SUVs that will only battle L.A.'s snarling freeways).

Just a thought.

-- Lemise Rory

By Salon Staff

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