by Tammy Tillotson
Modern advances in science and medicine are redefining human perceptions concerning the extent of power and control that can be exercised over the evolution and reproduction of the human species. As population control has become a pressing issue for many countries, attempts to curb increasing density statistics has raised the scientific and ethical issue of which human lives are, in essence, more evolutionarily important for survival of the species.
Specifically, the societal role of the severely mentally disabled is in question. In considering the possibility of implementing a sterilization program for certain individuals determined to be unsuitable candidates for reproduction purposes, it is important to examine many interesting perspectives. It is necessary to establish a generalized understanding of how humans have historically valued life in regards to the advancement of the species, in terms of social behavior and autonomous desires. The problems associated with overpopulation are noteworthy, and as humans possess the ability to glean cognitive knowledge through actions, much can also be gained from considering how the nations of China, India, and the United States have already attempted to implement population control methods.
For the purpose of this essay, an underlying assumption to this controversial issue lies within the pretense that the severely mentally disabled are unable to contribute positive genetic characteristics to advance the evolution of the human race, and that sterilization is an option worth additional exploration, education, and contemplation in terms of population control.
Survival of the Fittest
Continuing the viability of the human race has roots within Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ideals, in which the strong acerbate desirable intellectual evolution while the frail and meek lead to a possible undermining degradation of that cause. If a species is to survive it must readily adapt to changes within its habitat or it will simply become extinct, as many species have already been erased from existence and many others are certainly sure to follow. Humans are a unique species whose adaptation for survival is both dependent on the self and interdependent on other members.
While the individual strives to provide essential necessities for its own survival, the individual also recognizes the benefits in utilizing the skills and talents of other members, so work is accomplished more quickly and more effectively. Another perspective is that an individual’s survival is dictated by whether or not the individual actively pursues endeavors that are in the individual’s best interest. The advancement of the human species, in part, is related to the concept that society is a singular entity in itself that it is necessary to belong to as an individual and also make worthwhile contributions to as an active participant.
Traditional and historical hierarchies of power and status have also determined that humans, as social individuals, thrive well under systems that manifest structure, control, and government. The goal of the implementation of these structures is to provide a functioning means, which will innately provide for the overall benefit of the collective human society. However, the collective is merely a conglomeration of its individual parts, therefore each individual is extremely important in accomplishing the goals of the collective. The greatest king would not have been great if it weren’t for his followers, and there would not be teachers if it weren’t for students eager to be taught.
The human species is simultaneously a bit more complex, as despite striving toward a common collective goal, free will and the goals of the autonomous individual are also important. The value placed on human life is regarded with high esteem, as is the necessity of childbearing to ensure the existence and survival of future generations. With knowledge of the human body and medicine, the decision to reproduce or practice contraception methods is largely an individual decision for most western civilizations.
As the threat of overpopulation steadily becomes a more prevalent issue, the desires of the individual may not feasibly allow the collective human society to reap necessary survival benefits, especially in regards to reproduction.
In areas where overpopulation is evident, many general problems result. Overpopulation creates areas where water and food can be scarce, as a direct effect of the population density. Survival is dependent on these resources, and when a population depletes the supply faster than the supply can naturally be replenished by nature, conditions such as disease, improper sanitation, and famine can result. Overpopulation also creates overcrowded areas, which can lead to shortages of housing, higher unemployment rates, poverty, and a lower quality of life for the working individuals. When job competition is fierce, individuals often sacrifice higher wages to simply ensure that there is food to feed hungry family members.
Overpopulation creates a group of individuals that are not necessarily actively contributing to the benefit of society. Improper sanitation further contributes to the spread of disease, and reproduction provides a channel in which diseases continue to exist, adapt, mutate, and spread from one generation to the next within the human genetic makeup. As a result, there is a sizeable population that is severely mentally disabled or less than desirable candidates for producing offspring that will yield a more highly evolved human specimen for the benefit of the collective species.
As technological innovations yield more possibilities in being able to produce a more “perfect” human, the idea emerges that if science is able to improve the evolution of the human species than this is at least a thought provoking concept. The main controversial aspect to be considered is how to successfully implement population control methods that promote the reproduction of more highly evolved specimens, while simultaneously discouraging the reproduction of less evolved specimens.
Despite this idea being technologically and genetically possible, it assumes that the frail and disabled have little or no value to the human gene pool. To a great extent, this concept demands that the rights of the individual be infringed upon for the good of the collective. As autonomous existence is a highly regarded aspect of the value of human life, issues of ethics bombard this idea of humans deciding for themselves how the process of natural selection can forcibly be set in motion. Though some things may be technologically possible, they may not be ethically permissible within the present human society at least as far as western civilizations are concerned.
Population Control Methods in Various Cultures
In other areas of the world there are obvious exceptions to this as overpopulation has been a great concern of other nations for some time. Both China and India, the world’s first and second most populous nations respectively, have endeavored to implement possible population control methods. The motivation behind these endeavors is not only to ensure survival of the species, yet to ensure that only those with more desirable genetic characteristics are encouraged to reproduce. The methods have been successful, though the governments of these countries certainly do more than infringe on the rights of individuals.
Population Control Methods in China
On June 1, 1995 the Maternal and Infant Health Law became effective in the People’s Republic of China. The law was aimed at improving the quality of the population by encouraging unsuitable candidates for reproduction to voluntarily receive sterilization, which would be provided free of charge by the Chinese government. It is widely known that China has a one-child policy, yet this law carried population control concerns into greater depths to encompass the issues of genetic diseases, infectious diseases, and mental diseases.
The government provides extensive testing before a couple is allowed to married and certificates of health are administered before the marriage can take place. If one of the partners is found to possess certain detrimental hereditary traits that could potentially be passed on to offspring, the couple is advised of voluntary sterilization procedures. Pregnant mothers carrying fetuses with serious birth defects are also advised of abortion options. The sterilization and abortion services are provided cost-free by the government, and patients are strongly advised and encouraged to follow the medical personnel’s advice.
The Maternal and Infant Health Law actively encourages discrimination against the mentally disabled, and in effect continues to exert the idea that a superior race is possible and attainable. It basically dictates this notion to the people of China, as historically individuals that speak out against the Chinese government fall victim to persecution. Through instilling and capitalizing on the notion of fear, the law is spreading the concept that human intervention is able to shape heredity in terms of morality and ethics, as the people are merely obeying the laws of their country.
Population Control Methods in India
India was the first nation to launch a population control or a family planning program, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, there have been many reports of Indian women being sterilized without their consent, and the methods that have been used are not always safe or pleasant. One such method involves inserting pellets into a female’s uterus that contain quinacrine, which is an anti-malarial drug. The quinacrine causes painful inflammation, which results in scar tissue blocking the fallopian tubes, and effective sterilization. Further research also indicates that quinacrine can possibly be associated as a cancer causing agent.
Though this is only one example of a method to control the India population, it is similar to China’s Maternal and Infant Health Law as the citizens of either nation are not completely free to make an autonomous decision about whether or not they want to receive this sterilization.
Population Control Methods in the United States
The United States has primarily focused on alternatives to population control methods through providing adequate health care and education. Americans largely endorse the importance of individual rights and the rights of the disabled. Equality of all individuals regardless of gender and mentality are issues that receive much political attention. As Americans place a high value on all human life the country’s population assumes responsibility for basically all children that are born within the country’s boundaries. This has become an issue in regards to the children of immigrants and refugees that are seeking asylum within the borders of the country. It has also created a variety of services and a Welfare program whose priorities are ensuring that children receive proper care and medical attention.
In America’s efforts to be the Good Samaritan for everyone, the benefits of Welfare are too often being taken advantage of by teenage and unwed mothers. The system may have good intentions, but also has serious problems. While some health insurance companies refuse to cover birth control expenses for a female consciously making an effort to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, there are pregnant teenagers receiving one hundred percent medical coverage for them and their child through governmentally funded programs. Many of these women know how to use the system so their child is provided for accordingly, as they could not otherwise support the child on their own. The government has in some ways offered a solution to have a child when circumstances may not otherwise allow the feasibility of it.
Though many Americans and other nations have been appalled at China’s Maternal and Infant Health Law and other possible population control methods, it seems perhaps China is at least more effectively ensuring the survival of the fittest of their race. In comparison, China has implemented a program that at its root does have clear intentions of preventing future repetition of severely mentally disabled genetic patterns. As long as Americans continue to place such an extreme importance on equality they will continue to avoid the issue of population control in general, as their society will be more concerned with caring for all these individuals instead of actively seeking other solutions to remedy and prevent the issues.
If the idea of having children is to continue the viability of the Human Race, what role should human intervention play in shaping heredity in terms of morality and ethics? To determine an answer to this controversial question perhaps there is an important lesson to be learned from another species of mammals. Consider the lemming. Misinformation has led an overwhelming number of people to believe that lemmings commit suicide by hurling themselves off cliffs when they are sick or disabled so the rest of their kind can survive.
In fact, when competition for food, space, or mates becomes intense, lemmings will actually become aggressive toward each other and are much more likely to kill another than to kill themselves. Is the victor the more intelligent lemming, the severely mentally disabled lemming, or the more resourceful lemming who is trying to dream up ways of selectively choosing who should reproduce and who should not?
That’s hard to say.
Another Urban Legend that stems from the misappropriation of information and the limitations of human understanding.
(Additional Points of Interest)
English translation of China’s Maternal and Infant Health Law:
Interesting article about Child Poverty in the United States: