WASHINGTON-The 15-year saga of free distribution of a horrific chemical sterilization pellet, quinacrine, has finally received broad exposure. An extensive Wall Street Journal article June 18 detailed the work of two North Carolina men who have been responsible for 100,000 sterilizations in the Third World. At the heart of this effort is a strong anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic mentality.
The article, as well as work done by the Population Research Institute of Falls Church, Va., examines the efforts of Stephen Mumford and Elton Kessel to provide population control advocates in 18 countries with the means to painfully damage women's fallopian tubes.
The pellets, placed at the top of the uterus with a modified intrauterine device, release an acid that produces burns. The resulting scar tissue blocks the fallopian tubes. Although two applications are recommended for complete sterilization, frequently only one is given.
One application presents a problem: the job is often incomplete and a life-threatening ectopic (tubal) pregnancy can result.
According to Kateryna Fedoryka of the Population Research Institute, “There is no official body anywhere in the world which recognizes quinacrine as an acceptable contraceptive.”
Even most family planning groups that normally support sterilizations oppose the use of this chemical. Perhaps this near universal condemnation is not surprising given that the pellets are inserted without the use of anesthesia, the side effects are significant, and the link between quinacrine and cancer is unclear. Equally appalling, women are often coerced or tricked into undergoing the procedure.
Quinacrine, an effective anti-malaria drug, has been used for sterilization since the 1960s. Published reports of side effects have been available since at least 1983. Use of the chemical for sterilization is now banned in many countries, including the United States. The Food and Drug Administration has never approved it as a sterilizing tool and, in fact, directed a Colombian quinacrine provider to remove its U.S.-targeted advertising from the World Wide Web in 1997.
Mumford, quinacrine's biggest champion, runs the Center for Research on Population and Security, a small nonprofit near Chapel Hill, N.C. Kessel, an elderly physician, has been Mumford's partner since the 1980s. They argue that quinacrine helps poor women who are at risk for death through childbirth.
But Dr. Brian Clowes, director of Human Life International's Pro-life Pro- Family Institute said, “Together they essentially travel around the world with quinacrine in a suitcase and without supervision, using Third World women as guinea pigs.”
The pellets they distribute have been produced by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, Sipharm Sesseln AG, since 1991. As a result of recent negative publicity, the company announced June 25 that it would stop manufacturing quinacrine. Mumford and Kessel said a new provider will be found and their work will not be hampered.
The drug is basically given free of charge to population planners in Asia, Latin America, and in countries of the Near East. Nearly half of all sterilizations by means of the pellets have occurred in Vietnam, about 25% in India, and 14% in Pakistan. The remaining sterilizations have taken place in 15 other countries.
Not surprisingly, the ethical and moral implications of this program have offended many people of faith. Franciscan Father Germain Kopaczynski, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, told the Register, “The ugly American, unfortunately, is alive and well. Cultural imperialism is seen very much in the attitude of these men in the name of helping the poor.”
“Here is Robin Hood in reverse: serving the rich by robbing the poor, robbing them of their fertility, self-respect, and dignity. Children are often the most valuable resource of the poor. It's demeaning and extremely disheartening to see this taking place by anybody, but especially by citizens of the United States of America,” he added.
Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, said of this worldwide distribution program: “It's disgusting because it's inhuman and it violates every concept of human rights. What strikes me as bizarre is that it's justified in the name of national security.”
Indeed, Mumford appears to be motivated by a desire to control future foreign infiltration across U.S. borders. He was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “This [population] explosion in human numbers, which after 2050 will come entirely from immigrants and the offspring of immigrants, will dominate our lives. There will be chaos and anarchy.”
Such an outlook has apparently endeared him to some anti-immigration advocates. He receives support, for example, from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an association based in Washington, D.C. FAIR promotes legislation that would severely restrict immigration. Recently the organization aggressively lobbied Congress to remove a provision of the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act that would ease restrictions on granting refugee or asylum status.
Dan Stein, FAIR's executive director, lauded a study released in January 1998 that ranked U.S. metropolitan areas according to the number of foreign-born residents — the greater the percentage of foreign born, the less desirable the area.
Stein said, “FAIR has looked at the new index of financial security [as reported in the study] and found that a reliable shortcut to determine the best and worst locations would have been to simply look for large concentrations of immigrants.”
For Mumford, the biggest stumbling block to world population control and U.S. national security is the Catholic Church. Among his books are American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security, The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning, and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy. The last book, also highly critical of the Vatican, traces the path of population planning in the United States since President Nixon's 1974 National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM 200) on world population growth. (See box for excerpts.)
The NSSM book devotes a chapter to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, headed by William Donohue. The Catholic League describes itself as “the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. It defends the rights of Catholics — lay and clergy alike — to participate in American life without defamation or discrimination.” (Donohue and the organization were profiled in the Register's May 10-16 issue, “At 25, Catholic League Still Fighting ‘Respectable Bias ’of Anti- Catholicism.”)
Mumford, bemoaning the success of the Catholic League, asks, “How can Americans publicly discuss the obvious conflict between American national security- survival interests and Papal security-survival interests in this environment that the Catholic League now so effectively fosters? Obviously, it is not possible.”
Donohue spoke to the Register about Mumford, his work, and his views on the Catholic Church. He said, “There is a segment of the population control movement which is pro-abortion, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic. We have no problem with any scholar who exercises healthy freedom of speech. We do have a problem with people like Mumford who need to express themselves in a bigoted way.
“We're talking about well-funded, well-educated people who ought to know better. The first thing we must do is to unmask them. We need to get the truth out there and expose the hidden agenda. We need to educate the public to get their antennae up,” he said.
Despite the medical and psychological hazards of quinacrine, there appears little the U.S. government is able to do to inhibit the work of Mumford and Kessel. Although quinacrine is banned for sterilization use in this country, distribution of these pellets oversees does not seem to violate any of our laws. Perhaps Donohue's call for education and condemnation is the best prescription for the present time.
Father Matthew Habiger OSB, a board member of Human Life International, also urged Catholics to expose the promoters of quinacrine. But he suggested they not lose sight of the bigger issue.
The use of these sterilization pellets, he said, “is the logical progression of what we [the U.S. government] are funding overseas. Many countries are getting foreign aid from our country, and this props up governments which allow such activities to take place. Until we stop funding dictatorships, the problem is going to continue.”
Through pressure exerted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), by human rights groups such as Population Research Institute and Concerned Women for America, and by the Peruvian Catholic bishops, a government-sponsored surgical sterilization program has been deflated in Peru. Protests against Peru's government, and President Alberto Fujimori, have become so intense during the last six months that the Ministry of Health announced June 9 that there was a 68% decline in sterilizations.
Many human rights activists are hopeful that President Clinton's trip to China (June 24-July 3) will have some impact on the systematic program of forced abortions and sterilizations in the world's most populous country. Unlike Peru, China does not receive direct foreign aid from the United States. Still, the United States ’options include such tough moves as abandoning Most Favored Nation trade preferences for China.
The whole debate over involuntary sterilization in the developing world, whether by chemical or surgical means, eventually comes back to the core issue of the sanctity of human life.
Father Kopaczynski of the National Catholic Bioethics Center suggested the public be on guard for those who say they are helping the poor and society by promoting population control programs. Citing Isaiah 5:20, as Pope John Paul II has: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.”
Another trenchant analysis comes from Dr. William Colliton, a retired gynecologist associated with the Culture of Life Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“A lot of these problems we are witnessing today we wouldn't have if we supported Humanae Vitae,” he said, referring to Pope Paul VI's landmark encyclical on human life issued 30 years ago this month. Too often, Colliton said, population control advocates are arguing, “My will be done, not Thy will be done.”
Joseph Esposito writes from Springfield, Virginia.