Bioethics News

Bad ideas never die; they just plea bargain

A series of cases in Tennessee suggests that women may be trading sterilization for reduced jail sentences in the US. According to a report by AP, Nashville prosecutors have done deals with women at least four times in the past five years.

In the latest case, a 36-year-old woman with a long history of mental illness, Jasmine Randers was charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby mysteriously died during the night. Her lawyer alleges that the prosecution refused to discuss a plea bargain unless she agreed to be sterilized.

In conjunction with similar incidents in Virginia, West Virginia and California, lawyers think that many sterilizations may be organised out of view by the public and the courts. “It’s always been more of ‘If your client is willing to do this, then I might be inclined to talk about probation,'” one lawyer commented.

“The history of sterilization in this country is that it is applied to the most despised people — criminals and the people we’re most afraid of, the mentally ill — and the one thing that that these two groups usually share is that they are the most poor. That is what we’ve done in the past, and that’s a good reason not to do it now,” says Paul Lombardo, of Georgia State University, an historian of eugenics.

The current district attorney for Nashville has the use of sterilization as a condition for a plea bargain.

 “Any time a woman is given a choice between prison and this surgery, that is inherently coercive, even in cases where there is no mental illness,” Ms Randers’ attorney says.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.