Bioethics News

Peru continues to debate legacy of forced sterilizations

Most of the victims of the sterilization campaign were poor indigenous women / BBC  

“A nurse put me on a stretcher and tied my hands and feet,” said Sabina Huillca. “I asked them to bring me my little baby girl but instead they anesthetized me. When I woke up, the doctor was stitching my stomach. I started screaming, I knew I had been sterilized.”

In Peru, during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori, 272,000 women and 22,004 men were sterilized between 1996 and 2000 as part of the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program. Most of the men and women were indigenous, poor, and living in rural areas. The program’s alleged aim was to eradicate poverty through lower birth rates, but evidence has emerged over the years that it was coercive and blatantly violated reproductive rights.

Over 2,000 women have testified that medical practitioners performed the procedures against their will. In many cases, the women did not speak enough Spanish to understand what they were consenting to and in some cases, providers did not even go through the motions of obtaining informed consent. Some women have shared stories of providers offering them money to have the procedure or intimidating them with threats or violence.   Some women died due to complications and other women still suffer serious health complications today.

Last month, Public Prosecutor Marcelita Gutiérrez decided not to pursue charges of crimes against humanity against former President Fujimori and several staff members of the Ministry of Health. Gutiérrez stated that instances of forced sterilizations of indigenous women were not conclusive evidence that the practice was state policy and were, rather, isolated cases.

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.