Bioethics for Breakfast: Is Sterilization for Developmentally Disabled Girls Ever Justified?

bioethics-for-breakfastTom Tomlinson, PhD, and Elmer L. Cerano presented at Thursday morning’s Bioethics for Breakfast event, offering opposing views on the topic, “Is Sterilization for Developmentally Disabled Girls Ever Justified?”

Developmentally disabled people have been, and continue to be, stigmatized and mistreated. The history in the US (and other countries) is especially shameful when it comes to the sterilization of “mental defectives,” commonly done for “eugenic” reasons in various states, even into the 1970’s.

It is not uncommon, however, for the parents of developmentally disabled girls to request sterilization (sometimes including hysterectomy) for their child. Are there circumstances when these requests should be granted, despite the lessons of history? The speakers led a discussion of the pros and cons on this question.

Tom Tomlinson, PhD
Tom Tomlinson is Director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University. Dr. Tomlinson presented arguments in favor of granting some of these requests.

Elmer L. Cerano
Elmer L. Cerano serves as executive director of Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. the independent, private, nonprofit organization designated by the governor of Michigan to advocate and protect the legal rights of people with disabilities. Mr. Cerano is also a member of the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council and the The Michigan Behavioral Health Advisory Council.

About Bioethics for Breakfast:
In 2010, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman invited the Center for Ethics to partner on a bioethics seminar series. The Center for Ethics and Hall Render invite guests from the health professions, religious and community organizations, political circles, and the academy to engage in lively discussions of topics spanning the worlds of bioethics, health law, business, and policy. For each event, the Center selects from a wide range of controversial issues and provides two presenters either from our own faculty or invited guests, who offer distinctive, and sometimes clashing, perspectives. Those brief presentations are followed by a moderated open discussion.