Bioethics News

Tennessee Inmates Consenting to Vasectomies or Birth Control Implants Offered Reduced Time

If Tennessee inmates consent to receiving a free vasectomy or birth control implant, Judge Sam Benningfield has ruled that they can have their jail time reduced by up to thirty days. Critics are claiming that the initiative violates inmates’ constitutional rights, amongst them the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous district attorneys. Advocates are claiming that the program, in effect since May 15th, precludes the potential burden of childrearing for otherwise unintentional parents.

In response to the backlash, Benningfield has emphasized that the procedures are reversible and do not involve sterilization. According to Reuters, he said that “the idea grew out of an earlier program he created with the state’s Department of Health under which inmates’ sentences were reduced by two days if they completed an education program on the risks of raising children while using illegal drugs… Unplanned and unwanted children and the resulting obligations complicate their lives and make their reintegration into society more difficult.”

Nashville’s News Channel 5, which drew attention to the program earlier this week, has stated that 32 women have received the four-year birth control implant and 38 men have signed up for vasectomies. Initially designed for women at risk of birthing children with drug dependencies, the program now encompasses procedures for both sexes in order to avoid discriminatory practices.

“We do not support any policy that could compel incarcerated individuals to seek any particular health services,” said a spokeswoman for Tennessee’s Department of Health. Despite assurances from Benningfield about the procedures’ reversibility, District Attorney Bryant Dunaway said that “it’s comprehensible that an 18-year-old gets this done, it can’t get reversed and then that impacts the rest of their life.”

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.