Sterilization of People with Mental Disabilities: Issues, Perspectives, and Cases

By Ellen Brantlinger | Go to book overview

Preface

This book is focused on a controversial issue about which opinions are ambivalent and volatile. Sterilization of people with mental retardation qualifies as controversial on at least four fronts. First, it is integrally related to sexuality, one of the foremost unmentionable topics about which controversy abounds. Second, it is one of a number of touchy and disputed issues related to fertility and fertility control. Third, the idea of disability makes people uncomfortable; consequently, disability concerns are often denied and ignored. Fourth, it is an area of discrimination in that people with disabilities are treated differently than people without disabilities.

People generally avoid controversial issues, so, as a result, the various problems that cluster around them are ignored and evaded rather than dealt with and resolved. Circumstances embedded in controversy typically involve high stakes and serious risks--in this case, pregnancy, infertility, loss of personal control over the body, and sexually transmitted disease. Therefore, rather than avoiding controversy, it is crucial that our discomforts be confronted and the issues be addressed.

Before getting on with the content of this book, a brief personal history might clarify my incentives for "jumping out of the frying pan into the fire." For whatever reason, my nurturing instincts have always been strong. I "mothered" dolls at an early age, attended to younger neighborhood children, and worried about every problematic social situation I observed. When I was 11, friends who square danced with my parents took on a foster child with Down syndrome. I felt lucky to care for her while they danced. Because of the dire need for foster care for children with disabilities, they soon had acquired many more children. I got my first acquaintance with microcephaly, hydrocephaly, and many forms of cerebral palsy. It is not

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