Thursday, July 18, 2013

California sterilizes dozen of female inmates

Over a five-year period, 148 female inmates in California's state prison system underwent sterilization procedures that had not been approved by a state medical committee. The committee's job was to determine whether the procedures were medically necessary.

The procedures were performed at outside hospitals under contract to provide health care services to inmates. Doctors claim no one was coerced but there was at least one inmate who was asked to consent to a procedure while under sedation. Medical directors at the individual prisons recommended and approved the procedures without submitting the requests to the state board.

Now just think about that for a second. Prison medical directors recommended the procedures. We're not talking about a woman going to the doctor of her choosing. We're not talking about a doctor advising a patient how to treat a particular condition. These women weren't afforded a second opinion. The very fact that the person recommending the procedures is in a position of authority as compared to the inmate raises very serious questions.

I suppose it's entirely possible that all of the women wanted to undergo sterilization procedures and that no one was pressured or coerced to do so. It's also possible that some of the women involved were pressured to be sterilized. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between.
"Pressuring a vulnerable population — including at least one documented instance of a patient under sedation — to undergo these extreme procedures erodes the ban on eugenics." -- California Legislative Women's Caucus
But even if we accept the hospitals' claims that no one was coerced, performing the procedures without obtaining the necessary authorization beforehand is very troubling. These women are in custody. They have little autonomy and little discretion. To the State of California, they are nothing but a series of numbers.

Anyone placed in that situation will be vulnerable. Prison de-humanizes people. It robs them of their individuality. It robs them of their self-worth.

It's the reason the detainees at Guantanamo and other facilities operated by the US around the world were subjected to torture day after day. The entire goal was to degrade the inmate and break down his resistance to the point where he would see his torturers as his saviors. Once someone is in that position there is nothing they won't do.

If but one inmate was coerced into consenting to a procedure that she wouldn't have consented to otherwise, that's one too many. In prison, inmates live day-by-day. It's the only way to get through a long sentence. The focus is on the here and now. There is no room for long term considerations. How many of those women thought about their futures outside the walls while they were lying on the table? What happens whey they realize the damage can't be undone?

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