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Science czar denies coercive population control views

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s science czar coauthored a book in the 1970s that raised coercive measures as possible means of curbing the human population.

The Senate confirmed John Holdren March 19 as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), but quotations on involuntary population control in a 1977 textbook he coauthored now have come under scrutiny.

In the book, “Ecoscience,” Holdren and his coauthors, environmentalists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, discussed such compulsory measures to limit population as abortion, sterilization after a second or third child, a sterilizing capsule implanted at the onset of puberty and a sterilant given to the population in drinking water or food.

Although it does not appear Holdren and the Ehrlichs necessarily endorsed these approaches in the textbook, they also did not seem to oppose at least some of them on ethical or moral grounds.

The authors’ approach in discussing these proposals is “completely amoral,” David Freddoso wrote in a commentary for The Washington Examiner after reviewing passages in the book. Regarding the possibility of a sterilant in drinking water or food, Freddoso said Holdren and the Ehrlichs do not recommend it, “but their objections to it are merely practical and health-related, not moral or stemming from any concern for human freedom.”

Holdren’s office has reacted by denying he supports government regulation of population growth.

“John Holdren did not, and does not, support forced abortions” or “compulsory sterilization,” OSTP strategic communications director Rick Weiss wrote Baptist Press in an e-mail. “These claims, based on a skewed reading of a 30-year-old, multi-author textbook are simply false.

“Dr. Holdren and his co-authors make clear in the book … that the section dealing with overpopulation is a compendium of others’ views,” Weiss said. “He and his co-authors refer to the ‘obvious moral objections’ to” a government-controlled sterilization plan, Weiss wrote.

Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell told BP, “It is well and good for Dr. Holdren to issue denials of views he published earlier in his career.

“Because he is now a public figure, a public denial is warranted,” said Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Furthermore, it is incumbent on him to frankly declare his current beliefs about the topic now under scrutiny. Tax-funded science is a public trust.”

In the textbook of more than 1,000 pages are the following statements from Holdren and the Ehrlichs:

— The authors said “it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society,” according to a Catholic News Agency report.

— Illegitimacy should be “strongly discouraged,” they said, according to Freddoso in The Examiner. One way to deal with this problem might be to require all illegitimate children to be placed for adoption. “It would be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society,” they wrote.

— Regarding U.S. tax policies that encourage marriage and child birth, they said, “Such a pronatalist bias of course is no longer appropriate,” Freddoso reported in The Examiner. They also cited as possible proposals “high marriage fees” and the “limitation of maternal or educational benefits to two children per family.”

— A “long-term sterilizing capsule” could be implanted under the skin at puberty and could be removed, “with official permission, for a limited number of births,” according to an online link to a section titled “Involuntary Fertility Control” in the textbook.

— “Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control,” they wrote. “Indeed, this would pose some very difficult political, legal, and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems.”

— “Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote. “As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control. A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences, while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time.”

Paul Ehrlich is probably best known for his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” which predicted a massive famine and millions of deaths by starvation.

Holdren was professor of environmental policy in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for 13 years before accepting the OSTP post. He served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.