Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Birth Control and the Gates Foundation

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In my book, Writing the Diaphragm Blues, I discuss the need for a male version of the birth control pill. I also discuss how research and technology is available and ready to offer the world a male version of birth control pill, but unfortunately the world is not all that interested in it. How can we tell?  Funding. Just as funding is available by the truckload for new “Viagra” like medications, there are few trucks loaded and ready with finances to test new methods of birth control for men.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the few organizations substantially backing this effort. 

But there is reluctance for this direction in birth control research. Indeed, many men object to the idea of subjecting their body to hormonal forces that impact their body negatively. Ironic enough, many of these same men do not seem to worry about asking their female partners to subject their body to hormonal drugs, but the line is drawn once the tables are turned. Yet I would argue that it is not unreasonable to object to putting medications into your body that would cause you some kind of harm. It is actually a very reasonable objection. That is why research is now attempting to find a solution to the male birth control conundrum, which does not include doses of hormones – but this research is just in its infancy. Regardless, until a solution can be found, birth control continues to be an issue that impacts women more directly, mostly remaining a non-issue for men.

In this past election cycle, the issue of birth control has shown its ugly little head again (pun intended). It really should be a non-issue, and indeed it has been a non-issue for centuries. It is quite ridiculous to suggest that the use of birth control, and the need for birth control, is a rather new and modern debate. The pill … yes, but birth control has existed for centuries, from the use of natural herbs, to the intestines of animals that were used as a type of a condom.  Why is birth control an issue now?  It is an issue because people feel birth control is a form of population control, and a simple abortant.  It is also an issue because it gives people the ability to control the social roles played by the different genders in society. However, I have commented on the second point a great deal in this blog, let me reflect a little on the first point.

As Melinda Gates suggests below, the argument and the fear regarding the widespread use of birth control is fear regarding purposeful population control. This population point it's not so much of a side issue as Melinda Gates suggests in her discussion, but Gates is correct when she states that the bottom line regarding birth control is this: people should have a right to decide whether or not they are ready to bring a child into this world, and whether they can care for that child. Birth control is indeed a personal, egoist concept and "I," and "my needs" are prominent in this formula.  However, the utilitarian position, or the "we" position is also dominate. So yes, population control is at issue as well. This doesn't mean I want or that I suggest we need to adopt a policy, such as is seen in China, limiting how many children we bring into this world.  However, there is something to be said about famine, a lack of resources, and our inability to care for children that we bring into this world. It is simple irresponsible to suggest through rhetoric or practice that humans have the right to bring children into this world, but we don't necessarily have to take responsibility for caring for those children/people throughout their lives. The philosopher Peter Singer brought up this discussion in '72 with his well argued article "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" in Philosophy and Public Affairs (1:1). Although dated, I cannot help but feel we should all revisit this discussion again.

Regardless, I would agree that creating a general rule for the good of the majority is not always a sound idea - frankly, it can be disastrous. Mandatory use of birth control is as bad as an idea as is limited the amount of children a couple can have in a society where the male child is valued over the female - China has a mess on their hands because of this.  Although I am a utilitarian at heart, I'm also a pragmatist. I like to look at situations as they, individually, occur and then weigh the consequences of potential reactions to that situation before I act. It’s a process and I am a huge supporter of focusing on the process rather than a particular, singular, outcome. People and situations are unique, and they must be approached uniquely. It is this approach toward birth control that is needed globally.  

What does this mean in the end?  It means that we must have open access to birth control throughout the world. It also means that men must have more open access to different forms of birth control as well, and they must be encouraged to make it part of their personal regiment, just as women do. It also means we must educate the world on the use of birth control, and the responsibility that comes with the use of birth control. We must teach people about sex, the consequences of sex, the consequences of sexual assault, and… yes… the consequences of overpopulation. The problem is that most talking heads are making this issue in either or issue rather than looking at the consequences, the wide affecting consequences, of a world without birth control. Enough.

Melinda Gates TED talk on Birth Control.

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