Yesterday the NZ media featured coverage of a new proposal that has been put forward by two “senior” academics from the University of Otago, who would like to see all young New Zealand females temporarily sterilised with long-acting chemical contraceptive implants.

In their ideal vision for the future of New Zealand young people, these academics would like temporary sterilisation to be the default policy that young girls would have to deliberately be opted out of if they didn’t want their new and still-developing fertility to be chemically shut down for months or years at a time.

No, this is not the plot of some dystopian novel or film, this really is a policy that a couple of NZ academics apparently now seriously consider to be a good idea.

To put things mildly: there is a lot to be concerned about with this proposal.

Firstly, these academics don’t seemed to have considered the possible impacts that temporarily sterilising an entire population of females from a very young age could have.

As far as I am aware, no attempt at the population-wide temporary sterilisation of very young females, whose physiology is still new and still developing, has ever been attempted – meaning that the outcome of such an experimental scheme is totally unknown.

We are talking here about synthetic hormonal interference with the female fertility system while that system is still very young and developing, and there is no reliable way of knowing how such interference could turn out (for all of us) in the long-run.

We already know that chemical contraceptives are an environmental pollutant that end up in waterways, and from there cause harms to wildlife populations. Imagine how devastating this environmental impact could become if every female in NZ was temporarily sterilised with these agents at a young age?

Then there are the eugenic memories from recent history that make mass sterilisation (even if it is reversible) a very unpalatable idea for most people today – the Nazis experimented with ways of trying to sterilise entire female Jewish populations, and in Apartheid South-Africa a similar sterilisation scheme was attempted on Black Africans.

Then there were the forced sterilisations of those considered to be ‘defective’ that took place in the United States of America prior to, and after World War II – not to mention those that took place in other parts of the world as well last century.

I think people are right to be extremely wary of any attempt to introduce any sort of mass sterilisation programmes – even temporary chemical sterilisations – because these can very easily morph into state-mandated sterilisation programmes for economic or social reasons (the old saying: ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is still as true today as it was the day when it was first uttered.)

And none of this even touches on the negative impact that synthetic hormonal contraceptives can have on female health and wellbeing, or the fact that such a scheme would not actually do anything to alleviate the far more serious problem of sexually transmitted diseases.

(By the way, I hoped everyone took notice of the fact that these academics have rightly pointed out that condoms have a failure rate of 18% per annum (that’s 18 pregnancies per year, for every 100 couples using condoms) – which makes condoms only 4% more effective than the woefully unreliable withdrawal method! This is important, because pregnancy can only occur for a very limited window each month (due to the way that female fertility works). Sexually transmitted diseases, on the other hand, can be transmitted 24/7 – meaning that condoms are a far less reliable form of protection against sexual disease than some people wrongly believe and tout them to be.)

I think that most people are rightly very concerned by this proposal for the automatic temporary sterilisation of all young New Zealand females – and for lots of very good reasons.

For me, one of the most troubling aspects of this proposal is the way in which it so flippantly treats normal healthy female fertility as if it were something that needs to be shut down or medicated against – like we would a disease, or some other physiological problem.

At the end of the day, this proposal would actually create far more social problems, and expose us to far more risks and unknown factors than we are currently experiencing in this country – which is precisely why I think that it is one of the worst health policy proposals that has been mooted in this country in quite some time.

(Photo: Kyrre Gjerstad)