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We Can't 'Breed Out' Drug Addicts

Calls for the sterilisation of drug users are deeply concerning.

28/10/2016 5:42 AM AEDT | Updated 28/10/2016 5:42 AM AEDT
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George Doyle
"Helping people with drug and alcohol problems is not the soft option, it is the smart option."

Miranda Devine has called on drug users to be sterilised, and after reviewing the comments below her article it appears that many of her readers support such a policy.

Of course, using sterilisation to resolve the problems you believe some people in our communities have is not new in Australia. Back in the 1980s, similar calls were made by leading Australians such as Lang Hancock (WARNING -- this link is to a video that many will find deeply offensive) to sterilise the Aboriginal people, particularly half-castes (or "hybrids" as some local officials appeared to prefer to say) given they couldn't cope with life in a white society.

Such statements truly beg the question of who gets to decide which people in our community should have their right to have children taken away permanently.

In this case, we can safely assume Miranda Devine is up to the task and ready to take on this role for the betterment of society. However, why draw the line at people using drugs? How about those with alcohol problems or smokers or obese people? Surely we would have a far better world if these people didn't breed. And, taking it a step further, surely the old and disabled are a drain on society, as are the mentally ill and the infirm. If we took this to its logical conclusion, then we could have a perfect world where everyone is just like Miranda.

There is a famous saying about the danger of sitting silently by as the powerful remove the less powerful because one day they may come for you if you don't meet their standards. And this is why this issue is far more serious than our mocking implies. Such commentary must be challenged and called out for the incredible harm it does.

There are millions of people who use drugs and alcohol on a regular basis in this country and there are tens of thousands of families around this country struggling with drug and alcohol problems. To say to them that they have no right to ever have children, as, make no mistake, this is what sterilisation will mean, destroys any semblance of hope. It completely misunderstands the nature of drug and alcohol use and problems.

For most people with problematic drug and alcohol use, it is a phase of their lives. A phase that can last a short time or a long time, but for the overwhelming majority a phase from which they emerge to become strong and productive contributors to society. This is being achieved with the support of treatment and other services, and, for some, via their own volition. Either way, it is an impressive achievement. However, sterilisation will have the perverse incentive of encouraging people not to seek support or treatment as it will be identifying themselves as a person with a drug and alcohol problem and therefore subject to such a punishment if they fail.

There is also the unintended consequence of what children born to parents with drug and alcohol problems are likely to think. Should they believe they never should have been born? How should they handle such taunts in the schoolyard or online?

Unfortunately, these calls for sterilisation and other severe punishments for people with drug and alcohol problems rear their heads every few years. They only serve to heap more shame, discrimination and stigma on some of our most vulnerable and marginalised people and their families. They rarely get the support their proponents believe they should because, quite simply, they are a fundamental breach of human rights. Having people giving themselves or government bureaucrats the power to decide who can have children in our society is a very dangerous step to take.

Helping people with drug and alcohol problems is not the soft option, it is the smart option. Providing resources for family and treatment services achieves far better outcomes for the community than even more punishment ever will.

We hope Miranda and her supporters never have to deal with drug and alcohol problems in their family or for people to close to them, but if they do we are sure they will understand that help, rather than sterilisation, is what is needed.

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