Professionals' Attitudes toward the Sterilization of MR Individuals
Social upheavals and legislative trends, such as those pertaining to institutionalization and sterilization, reveal that social constructs and collective attitudes are not static, but shift and evolve with time. In spite of historical trends and patterns in mass sentiments, it is likely that movements and ideologies are never universally endorsed or rejected. Ideas live on in individuals. Attitudes and habits of practice vary according to geographical location, professional role, political affiliation, gender, educational attainment, religion, or any number of idiosyncratic variables such as contact with MR people.
People with disabilities are frequently in the position of having family members and/or professionals make decisions for them. These others, then, have the power to significantly influence MR people's lives. Although family tends to be perceived as subjective, the status of professional connotes an objective and informed expertise. Yet professionals may be equally influenced by perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and circumstances. Physicians as a group are "generally in favor of sterilizing developmentally disabled individuals" ( Haavik & Menninger, 1981, p. 113); that is, they have a bias. The chief argument against medical professionals as principal decision makers is that people overestimate their knowledge of patients' interests and values and they confuse medical judgments with moral decisions for which physicians possess no special credentials ( Buchanan & Brock, 1989). The result is that professionals may make decisions for clients that are neither consistent with clients' values nor in their best interests.
This chapter reports a study of the attitudes of people in various professional fields toward sexuality, sterilization, and MR people. The participants were 50 professionals, including family planning clinic employees, social