RARE Daily

STAT Investigative Report Finds Cases of Physicians Coercing SCD Patients to Be Sterilized

May 21, 2024

Rare Daily Staff

A year-long investigative report by Eric Boodman of STAT found incidence of physicians pressuring women with sickle cell disease to have unwanted sterilizations.

Boodman notes that coercive sterilizations are “often talked about as an ugly part of America’s past, firmly in the realm of history” but his report identifies a number of cases in which patients describe being pushed into having sterilization procedures even though they were considering having more children.

The report found women who said they would not have agreed to tubal ligations or other procedures if they’d received more accurate information. Other people said doctors “steered them toward these surgeries without offering or explaining less invasive alternatives.”

“It’s hard to know how often this happens, but of the 50 women with sickle cell interviewed for this series, seven reported being sterilized with questionable consent — and physicians say they’ve directly heard about dozens of other instances,” wrote Boodman. “The pattern extends across at least seven states, surgeries taking place at the hands of different OB-GYNs, who often frame it as a way of keeping mothers safe.”

While some of the incidents occurred decades ago, others happened as recently as 2017 and 2022.

About 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease and 90 percent of them are Black. Boodman notes there are good reasons for people with sickle cell disease to be cautious about pregnancy. A 2023 study found that their maternal mortality rate was 10 times higher than for Black people without the illness, and 26 times higher than for those of other races. But it said to doctors researching the risks, the answer is not to discourage people with sickle cell from becoming parents, rather it is to provide better care. The answer is to provide better care. There are hospitals that have teamed up sickle cell specialists with high-risk pregnancy experts, dramatically reducing complications and, in some cases, doing away with these deaths entirely. There are also long-term contraception methods, less drastic than tubal ligation but just as effective.

Boodman wrote that “the pattern of tubal ligations and hysterectomies with questionable consent is just an extreme version of something much more common: a kind of verbal sterilization, when doctors express the pernicious belief that people with sickle cell disease cannot or should not have kids.”

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