Editorial: How far should we go?
Critics of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett – who is working on a white paper on how to protect vulnerable children – brought eugenics into the debate about child abuse.
Eugenics involves practices aimed at improving a population's genetic composition and was supported by many prominent people early last century before it became associated with Nazi Germany and the extermination of so-called undesirable groups.
Parents who neglect or abuse their children are hardly a desirable group and all decent people would want them punished.
But how far should we go?
When Radio Live talkback host Michael Laws asked Ms Bennett if abusers couldn't be stopped from having children through a state-ordered sanction, she told him she and her colleagues were "discussing that kind of measure".
This implied the Government was considering empowering judges to direct parents who have abused or killed children not to have children, which in turn suggested forced sterilisation.
A flurry of denunciations followed. Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Sue Bradford said the government was moving toward judicial control of some women's reproductive rights and described this as another insidious step on the slippery road to state eugenics.
Not so, Ms Bennett insisted. "We're not talking about sterilisation", but tougher sanctions were needed.
Some people are disappointed.
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie declared his support for the idea that dysfunctional parents should not have reproductive rights and that the Government must act in the best interests of children.
Less ambiguously than in her radio interview, Ms Bennett yesterday warned that the state could automatically remove children born to abusers and murderers at birth. Abused dogs, she noted, are taken away from abusive owners. "People can't own a dog for two years or five years, but we don't do that for children."
Indeed not. But unwanted dogs – and those in pain – are put down. Let's not muffle the debate about eugenics by sparking one about euthanasia.