The Inconvenient Truth About Population Control, Part 2; Science Czar John Holdren’s Endorsement of Involuntary Sterilization

Michael Egnor

In a previous post, I analyzed the writings of Presidential science czar John Holdren in his 1977 textbook Ecoscience. In the chapter on population control, Holdren and co-authors Paul and Anne Ehrlich endorse a range of coercive measures to decrease human population. I begin in Holdren’s book where I left off in my prior post.
In a section entitled “Involuntary Fertility Control,” Holdren wrote:

The third approach to population limitation is involuntary fertility control. Several coercive proposals deserve discussion, mainly because some countries may ultimately have to resort to them unless current birth rates are rapidly reversed by other means.

Note Holdren’s explicit endorsement of involuntary methods of birth control — “some countries may ultimately have to resort to them” unless birth rates are rapidly reversed by other means. The “other means” that he has previously endorsed include forced abortions and the intentional infliction of economic catastrophe on poor countries.
Holdren continues:

Some involuntary measures could be less repressive or discriminatory, in fact, than some of the socioeconomic measures suggested

The “socioeconomic measures” of population control he refers to and has endorsed (under some circumstances) run the gamut from withholding government benefits to the policy of inflicting economic catastrophe on poor nations.
Holdren describes one of the “less repressive or discriminatory measures” that some countries “may ultimately have to resort to”:

In the 1960’s it was proposed to vasectomize (sic) all fathers of three or more children in India. The proposal was defeated then not only on moral grounds but on practical ones as well; there simply were not enough medical personnel available even to start on the eligible candidates, let alone to deal with the new recruits (sic) added each day! Massive assistance from the developed world in the form of medical and paramedical personnel and/or a training program for local people nevertheless might have put the policy within the realm of possibility. India in the mid-1970’s not only entertained the idea of compulsory sterilization, but moved toward implementing it, perhaps fearing that famine, war, or disease might otherwise take the problem out of its hands. This decision was greeted with dismay abroad, but Indira Gandhi’s government felt it had little other choice. There is too little time left to experiment further with educational programs and hope that social change will generate a spontaneous fertility decline, and most of the Indian population is too poor for direct economic pressures (especially penalties) to be effective.

Note that Holdren explicitly endorses the Indian sterilization program:

There is too little time left to experiment further with educational programs and hope that social change will generate a spontaneous fertility decline, and most of the Indian population is too poor for direct economic pressures…

In the mid-1970’s the Indian government instituted population control measures of the sort that Holdren and other population control experts endorsed. Government officials were issued sterilization quotas, and the police carried out many of the sterilizations (vasectomies) themselves. Officially, all Indian men with two or more children were required to undergo sterilization, but many poor men with no children and even political opponents of the government were involuntarily sterilized. Even young boys were sterilized in order to meet quotas.
Holdren writes:

A program of sterilizing women after their second or their third child, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men. This of course would be feasible only in countries where the majority of births are medically assisted. Unfortunately, such a program therefore is not practical for most less developed countries (although in China mothers of three children are commonly “expected” to undergo sterilization).[emphasis mine]

Note again that Holdren explicitly endorses involuntary sterilization: “Unfortunately, such a program therefore is not practical” because there are not enough trained personnel in poor countries to sterilize millions of women against their will.
The Indian sterilization program, based on principles that Holdren explicitly endorsed in his textbook, sterilized 8 million people — 6.2 million men and 2 million women against their will. There were 1,774 deaths due to botched sterilization procedures, according to the government’s own statistics. Strong legal penalties were instituted against people who resisted, including denial of irrigation water to farmers, denial of food rations, electricity, and medical care. The principle of the Indian socialist government’s sterilization program was, “Who refuses sterilization shall not eat.” Popular outrage at the population control atrocities played a major role in the fall of the government in elections in 1977, and it continues to play a significant role in Indian politics to this day.
Dr. Holdren, who is now President Obama’s top science advisor, explicitly endorsed the Indian government’s forced sterilization of millions of men (“There is too little time left to experiment further with educational programs…”) and referred to logistical impediments to involuntary mass sterilizations of women as “unfortunate.”
Holdren’s office recently issued a press release denying that Holdren had ever endorsed involuntary sterilization:

“Dr. Holdren has stated flatly that he does not now support and has never supported compulsory abortions, compulsory sterilization, or other coercive approaches to limiting population growth…”

Holdren didn’t make that denial during his Senate testimony, because it would have been perjury.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.