The Big Snip
I'm 29 years old. On Thursday, November 8th, I went to the urologist and had a vasectomy. I've known for several years that I don't want to have kids of my own (I'd prefer to be a foster parent or adoptive parent) so I did something about it. It was a pretty quick procedure and I experienced only mild discomfort over the next few days.
The urologist detailed everything involved to me before the procedure. He numbed the area by injecting a topical anesthetic, made a small incision in the scrotum (it took one stitch to close; I've received worse injuries at punk shows) and proceeded to sever and cauterize the vas deferens. In laymen's terms, he cut the vas deferens in half and burned the ends closed to reduce bleeding and permanently seal them. It took less than 45 minutes from the time they called me in until the time I left the office.
I drove myself home from the clinic, took that Friday off, spent the weekend in bed and on the couch, and was back at work on Monday. Since then, it seems like nearly everyone I know has been shocked by my decision. No one has been malicious, but friends have told me, among other things, that:
- Intelligent people have a responsibility to reproduce
- Women won't want to get into long-term relationships with me because they'll want to have children someday
- Vasectomies lead to increased risk of prostate cancer
My response to these points follows:
- You assume I'm intelligent. I know a number of people who would happily dispute that claim.
- If a woman had gotten involved with me because she wanted children and I didn't, the relationship would have ended anyway. Having a vasectomy seems more honest to me. And it certainly puts an end to arguments about whether to have a child.
- Although there has been some debate on this topic, there is some pretty compelling evidence that vasectomies do not cause prostate cancer, nor do they increase the risk, nor do they have any link at all.
So why did I have a vasectomy? Several reasons (my rationale for this is about as complicated as my rationale for being a vegetarian).
I don't believe that anyone has the responsibility to reproduce. Rather, if anything, I believe we all carry the burden of caring for people who are already here, no matter what age. Over the years, I've come into contact with a wide variety of people - especially kids (and I certainly don't mean that in a derogatory way) - who are painfully aware that their parents don't really seem to care about them and that they are essentially a lifestyle accessory, that their birth was a result of their parents' poor planning and irresponsibility, and they carry that weight with them for their entire lives. That only takes emotional neglect or distance into account. When you realize that, according to the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, "1,553,800 children in the United States were abused or neglected under the Harm Standard in 1993," it puts a radical new perspective on things. The increases in the numbers of abused or neglected children are equally shocking. The number of abused children increased 67% from 1986 and 149% from 1980. Between 1986 and 1993, the number of children who were physically abused increased 42%. The number of children who were sexually abused increased 83%. The number of physically neglected children increased 102%. And the number of emotionally neglected children increased 333%. That's just examining the harm standard. The endangerment standard paints an even worse picture. And these numbers are 8 years old. I don't even need to ask if the situation has improved. I know the answer. I'm with Andrew Vachss on this one. We don't need more children. We need better parents. And we need to care for the children who are already here and being damaged. That is a responsibility.
The simple fact of the matter is that a vasectomy is safer than birth control pills or any form of surgical contraception that a woman can undergo. It ensures that any partner I have will never have to worry about birth control or the effects of it on her body. What are those effects? Thinner bones (potentially leading to more severe bone problems such as osteoporosis as women age), an increased risk of cervical cancer and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Are those enough?
I'm adamantly pro-choice and have been since I've been able to understand that, since a man is not capable of having a baby, men have no right to mandate that a woman carry her pregnancy to term. I've walked the line at women's health clinics so that women could get past protesters to have a pap smear, I've searched neighborhoods to remove fliers that call gynecologists murderers and I've worked the phones for Planned Parenthood. I also vote with my wallet. That does not mean that I ever wanted to discuss whether someone I'm involved with should have an abortion. And now I don't have to worry about that.
For a number of years, a movement called ZPG (Zero Population Growth) has been striving to educate the world about the dangers of overpopulation. And now the UN is estimating that the world population may reach 10.9 billion by 2050. Like the planet needs me to reproduce. Like the world population needs me to reproduce ... and give birth to children who will reproduce. And just as a last bit of simple math, it's not too far off the mark to assume that five generations will take about 150 years (30 years per). In 150 years, who knows what the existing population will be ... or what the life expectancy will be? So here's some more math. The current world population is around 6.2 billion people. The worst case scenario in 2050 is 10.9 billion. That's a growth rate of 56% per 50 years. That's 17 billion people in 2100 and 26.5 billion in 2150 if the current trends hold true. It could be better ... but that requires a leap of faith that I'm not willing to take.
This is perhaps the single most annoying and flawed argument to use in favor of reproduction. First, it borders on eugenics, racism and elitism to suggest that certain people should reproduce - the implication, whether intended or not, is that other people with lower intelligence should not. Second, it's frequently founded in shoddy science. People assume that intelligence is inherited. It is not (I offer my biological father as proof). It is a matter of socialization and exposure to an environment in which learning is valued. There are certain traits that seem to be inherited - immune systems. Risk for mental illness. That sort of thing. As I told my doctor when I went in for my initial consultation, I'm chronically ill. Suicide and bipolar disorder run in my family. And I've fought depression for approximately 1/4 of my life. Are my genes important to the human race? Not really. Humans are 300 genes removed from drosophilia (the common fruit fly). The difference between our genes and an upper primate's genes is statistially insignificant. And if preserving my DNA is really that important, scientists can take a blood sample for posterity.
I think that responds to every reason someone gave me not to have a vasectomy and counters their arguments in a logical, reasoned fashion.
I did not decide to have a vasectomy on the spur of the moment. This is a decision I made for my life after years of consideration. However, most fundamentally, it's a personal decision that exposes me and only me to risk (see above rebuttal to alternate methods of birth control) while affecting my life and only my life (see above rebuttal to how it affects potential partners) and yields exponential, measurable benefits for the planet as the years go by. In the meantime, I'll dedicate my time to cleaning up the mess that everyone - myself included - seems to be making. And I'll dedicate my time to taking care of the kids that no one else seems to care much about.