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What If There Was No Destiny?

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When Barbara Harris was 37, she started wishing she could have a daughter. It was 1989, and by that time only two of her six sons were still at home. So she filled out all the paperwork, and later that summer got a call about an 8-month-old baby girl. As soon as Barbara met her, she knew that was it -- this was her daughter. She named her Destiny Harris. But before she could take her home, the social worker told Barbara that Destiny had tested positive for crack, PCP, and heroin. Her mom was addicted to drugs, and doctors said Destiny was delayed mentally and physically as a result, and always would be.

Producer Pat Walters flew down to North Carolina to meet Barbara and Destiny, who's now 22 years old. And Barbara tells Pat, a few months after she brought Destiny home, she and her husband got another call. Destiny's mom had given birth to another boy. They went to the hospital to pick him up, and he was going through withdrawal from heroin. Then Barbara got another call: a little girl. And a year later, another little boy. By 1994 she'd adopted four kids from the same woman. And she was feeling angry -- how could this be allowed to happen? She decided to take a stand by trying to get a law passed for longterm birth control. And when that failed, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She founded an organization called Project Prevention, and began paying women with drug addiction to get IUDs, or get sterilized.

Lynn Paltrow, the Executive Director and founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, argues that Project Prevention is misguided and harmful, and articulates many of the objections raised by Barbara's critics.

More:

While Barbara's prenatal neglect law didn't pass, other states have since found ways to prosecute women for using drugs during their pregnancies. For an overview, check out this excellent New York Times Magazine story.

For more on Lynn Paltrow's take on Project Prevention, check out her extremely thorough paper, or her video.

A recent article featuring one of Barbara's clients.

Producer’s note from Pat — Even Barbara Harris’s fiercest critics agree with her on one point: We all want healthy babies. It’s the way Barbara pursues that goal that gets people upset with her. In the course of reporting this story I came across an organization that shares Barbara’s mission — to stop babies from being born to mothers who are addicted to drugs — but goes about it in a very different way. It’s called the Parent-Child Assistance Program (or PCAP). Based at Washington State University, the program was founded in 1991 by by Dr. Ann Streissguth, the woman who discovered Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. According to Lori McDonald, one of the program’s clinical directors, pregnant women (or women who’ve given birth in the past six months) who have a drug-dependence problem are referred to the program by social workers, attorneys, and family members, then paired with a counselor who helps them find drug treatment and, if needed, a job and a safe place to live. The counselor also has a frank discussion with the client about birth control, McDonald says, telling them respectfully, think about taking measures to put off your next pregnancy until you get healthy and back on your feet. PCAP’s is a vastly different approach from Project Prevention’s. And yet, in the course of that discussion about birth control, McDonald says, her counselors often mention Project Prevention. And it’s not unheard of for PCAP’s clients to take Harris up on her offer. McDonald says the PCAP system has spread to several other states over the years.

Guests:

Barbara Harris, Destiny Harris and Lynn Paltrow

Produced by:

Pat Walters

Comments [84]

Me

Very dark days are ahead. Brace yourself. But you knew that. After all, it has already happened in the states once. Good night and good luck.

Apr. 13 2014 12:44 AM
be2beme from Troy, NY

I think this story is moving but also the outrage over her solution is kind of ridiculous. When you take Tetracycline or any other DRUG that causes birth defects - your doctor WILL put you on birth control. The labels direct women to take birth control. They go hand-in-hand. DRUGS+BIRTH CONTROL= no damaged babies. So if there was a drug clinic that saw addicts and also required them to take birth control in order to prevent birth defects, a lot of pain would be prevented. What woman wants to know that because she can't control her drug use, she's created a life consisting of pain?

Apr. 02 2014 04:24 PM
Grant

I think the concern many have regarding Barbara's program isn't so much the intent to reduce the pregnancy rates amongst those with drug issues, but in a.) how she frames the issue, and b.) her lack of concern with addressing the more prescient issue, of which being how to adequately address drug addiction. And when one compares addicted women to dogs having "litters" of children, it becomes difficult to align with her cause. Furthermore, her conjectures regarding the supposed scores of drug addicted women having 8,9, or 10 children is a statistical rarity, and attempting to frame the situation as such is disingenuous. That said, I don't have a problem with anyone attempting to extend the opportunity of free contraception to those who may need. But it is difficult to get behind someone who regards drug addiction as being in line with an oversexed K9

Mar. 20 2014 01:50 AM
Arleigh Holzgen from Manhattan, NY

This podcast was clearly biased against Barbara. Pat Walter spent a lot of time highlighting how well off Destiny is and how well most of her brothers and sisters are doing. Then the podcast ended with their discussion of the "odds" that only 1 in 8 are not doing well. Barbara's adversary, Lynn Paltrow, argued that it's wrong to offer money to women for birth control when they're at their "weakest." There was also the assumption by a commentator that "you know what the women are going to do with the money (i.e. buy drugs)." That's judgmental. Where's Pat's comment on that? Is that a correct premise from which to base this argument on? Do we know that addicted women can't make responsible decisions about their reproductive health while they're fighting addictions? I wonder how many women chose birth control over sterilization? Since, the podcast focused on sterilization, this would be interesting to know.

Mar. 10 2014 11:26 PM
jasmin123 from california

If this is a dream believe me i don't wish to wake up,After 10years relationship with my lover Tom Walker he just decided to have a divorce with me because he was having an affair with another lady and the lady told him to break up with me so she can come and took my position when Tom told me that he was no longer interested that he is tired of me i was like after 10years now you are tired of me so the next thing was a letter from the lawyer saying Tom said he needs a divorce when i saw the letter tears rushed out of my eye i composed my self and said wow this world has around turned round against me.So i decided to try all my possible best until one day when i was listen to the radio where i saw people giving testimony how there divorce was cancelled within 24 hours i was like this is same problem am having i just say people testifying in the name of this great man called Dr sabo for what he has done for them how he has helped them to bring back there lover i waited for the problem to finish and they dropped Dr sabo cell number and email,Immediately i gave dr sabo a call and shared my problem with him he just told me not worry that he assures me that Tom will tell the lawyer to cancel the divorce within 24 hours really what Dr sabo said came to past within the 24 hours was a call from tom crying that he his just coming from the lawyers office that he does not need a divorce anymore that he wants me back home that he his sending that lady away so when he said that i was so happy now Tom came home brought all document and told the lawyer that he his willing everything to me and that he wants me to be the right owner of everything he owns i was so happy,I bless the day i meant dr sabo meeting him was never a regret please clean your tears dr sabo is here to solve your problem you can contact him on drumasabospelltemple@gmail.com

Feb. 24 2014 07:48 PM
Angela from USA

i want to express how grateful i am cos i finally got what i have been looking for. My husband left me with two kids i have tried all my possible best to reach him but is like every time i tried i am making things worst for myself.but thank the spirit that leads me to Priest Dolakpo of DOLAKPO SPELL TEMPLE, he help me to restore the love my husband had for me back within 3days of me contacting him. he came back just as Priest Dolakpo told me he will make him come back. if you find yourself in situation like this kindly contact Priest Dolakpo on his email dolakpospelltemple@gmail.com

Nov. 23 2013 09:56 AM

I think Barbara Harris's idea and resulting organization is a brilliant, no-nonsense solution. She should be supported as should all the women who step forward to accept help. Effective birth control is no where near free - it's a great offer that simply provides an opportunity for well-being that would otherwise not exist for these women. It is also stunningly ironic, however, that her own daughter was not prepared for sexual activity and had an accidental birth. Life can be messy for some I guess.

On the flip side, why are so many American's incapable of differentiating between offering troubled women a chance to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and a potentially Hitleresque situation?

Am also unclear about why so many consider sterilization a shocking concept, even for an irredeemable addict. Is the line at the post office not long enough? Are there not enough miserable, starving people on the planet at the present moment? Married couples, for one, need to start offering their parenting skills to the world at large instead of simply reproducing as soon as they've tied the knot. If drug addicts are accepting birth control and money is what draws their attention to an otherwise unaffordable option - how can that be out of line?

Aug. 25 2013 07:25 PM
James Wiggins

Its sad how many people think this is some kind of charity outreach program when all they do is prey on poor people in horrible situations to push their pseudo-nazi agenda. This is disgusting.

Aug. 24 2013 02:21 PM
Laura from Portland, OR

It surprises me to hear such a stong right-wing agenda on public radio. Women of any culture and class will tell you how birth control has improved their lives. It is so silly to think that we wouldn't offer such an empowering tool to poor women in difficult situations. I can't help but feel angry with men like Pat Walters who havn't actually thought through the situation and who think that their naive view of the world should be imposed on women's lives.

Jun. 03 2013 05:31 PM
Erica from Minneapolis

Looking at the "about" page on their website, I think this episode's subject was as appropriate for Radiolab as anything else (i.e., "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience"). The show's topic was "Gattaca enough" for me to qualify for an ethics in science topic. Is technological intervention (sterilization) in matters of human reproduction a "good" thing for a society? Seeing this type of sterilization as a "bad" thing makes me feel ignorant to the world we have at hand, and seeing it as a "good" thing makes me feel ignorant about future possibilities. I know that if I were in Barbara's shoes, and every year or so I got a phone call from a woman whose irresponsible behavior was compromising my ability to support my family in a financially responsible way, I would indeed begin to feel like the reproductive cycle of the other woman was my business. Barbara's sense of personal responsibility manifested itself into a broader societal action. This is very interesting stuff.

May. 06 2013 04:17 PM

What a huge disappointment this show was - making me question my future interest in RL, as well as whether or not I will ever recommend this show to anyone again. It's wonderful that the adopted children had good lives. What percentage of unwanted children do? And what happens to the rest of them? I hear daily about the horrible crimes committed by throwaway kids in our society, beginning at a very young age -- kids that I would guess, at the very least, have never known love and never will, but more likely have known rape, torture, beatings. Clearly, this show was done as a result of someone's personal anti-abortion agenda. I see absolutely nothing wrong with offering women sterilization in exchange for money. In fact, I would like this to be a government sponsored program. Free sterilization to any impoverished woman who wants it, mandatory sterilization for those convicted of child abuse or neglect, and cessation of any monetary benefits for anyone who already has two children. I consider myself a bleeding heart democrat. I don't care about how much money is spent on "welfare" or about welfare fraud. It's a drop in the bucket compared to corporate welfare. I care about these throwaway kids and their victims - children that are raped and abused, elderly that are beaten, animals that are tortured and especially babies born to a loveless life of torture and sadness - babies that should never have been born in the first place. It makes me furious when these so-called baby loving anti-abortion proponents jump up on their soapboxes, invoking God's name and claiming to care about the unborn. All they care about is getting Christian brownie points and patting themselves on the back. 99% of them have never, ever lifted a finger to help an unwanted child - especially an impoverished or minority child. Your story was about an extremely generous, loving woman who devoted her life to caring for these kids. And what did she want to do? Prevent them from being born in the first place. Amen.

Apr. 17 2013 07:36 PM
Bob

I have to echo the comments here- Ive listened to RadioLabs for a while now, but this was just a pretty poor effort from the guys, and some shoddy thinking to boot. I had come to expect thought-provoking ideas from them, not mushy-headed anti-abortion rhetoric. The program Barbara offers is completely VOLUNTARY, and is not, in fact, "a eugenics program". By even suggesting that it is, YOU are making racist assumptions to start with, not Barbara.

Do yourselves a favor radiolabs boys, and re-read Freakonomics. Get back to us when you've done some real digging into the effects of unwanted children on the community, crime, and the families involved.

Apr. 11 2013 10:33 PM
Justin from Boston

I just don't understand how anyone can have a problem with what Barbara's doing when the people who take her up on her offer are doing so voluntarily.

Apr. 05 2013 04:47 PM
Lil from new york

Terrible show throughout. No scientific thinking in contextualizing the science presented in the first two segments--and then to treat Barbara that way! Horrible. Really disappointed in you, Radiolab. I'm a long-time listener--I credit getting through childbirth to your shows "The Limit" and "the Placebo Effect"--but starting to doubt my loyalty.

Read the book "Righteous Dopefiend" for a very sympathetic but very troubling account of the life of a woman who had seven crack-addicted children while living on the street--giving them all to her relatively stable siblings, who are also raising other nieces and nephews. I'm sure those children were loved, but they also had a very hard time, and made it harder for Tina's more together siblings to get out of the very difficult situation (poverty, addiction, abuse, prostitution) they were born in. "Tina" comes across as a loveable, but very troubled, person--with her own dignity, but without much ability to make choices relating to anything but dealing with the addiction, which is the number one priority. She did not choose to get pregnant, and it can't have made her life easier. You have to recognize that drug addicts have a lot of trouble taking care of themselves. Homeless people have nowhere to reliably store stuff (like condoms), since encampments and possessions are always at risk of theft or being discarded by city workers. Long-term birth control like IUDs is about the only thing they could manage (although I am concerned that someone should be tracking them to remind them to get the IUD removed after the required number of years).

Apr. 03 2013 10:23 AM
Lind from US

In Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables, something forever transforms the criminal: a bishop, while being robbed, hands the robber (Jean Valjean) the silver candlesticks to take, tells the police he's giving them as a gift, and tells Valjean: "Never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man...you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you..." Okay, so it's kind of dramatic and spiritual, but likewise, these women are being given a gift to use to become honest at using birth control, they are not forced or even unduly coerced by this sum of money, and they could simply take it and run with no consequence. It may not be a program to get them off of their addition, but there are other programs for that and which they will probably have more time and incentive to do without continually becoming pregnant. In a way, I think perhaps more than the money itself, the notion that someone actually cares enough to take an act of entrusting them to make a good choice and without requiring a report back - maybe that's the thing that moves the women to change. You'd be surprised how much of a difference genuine caring makes.

Apr. 01 2013 09:27 PM
Tim

From what I've seen the people that foster or adopt babies like this are saints. Usually the babies are placed into loving homes. the 1 in 8 statistic seems about right.
But what Barbara has done is absolutely right. The drug addicted mothers should have this option and the reward is a wonderful idea.
I do know one drug addicted mother who still wouldn't take the reward. She is continuing to have babies that are drug addicted and she is a burden to her family. These kinds of people are the hardest to talk sense with.

Apr. 01 2013 06:25 PM

I sat in my car transfixed by this story and outraged by the interviewer's notions that maybe a happy ending awaits most of these children. Destiny is well adjusted because she was adopted early and nurtured. Most of these babies end up in the foster system. If we're going to talk about "the greater good," let's talk about lifetime costs for caring for a drug baby: $750,000 to $1.4 million. We all pay for that! Big applause for Ms. Harris.

Mar. 05 2013 02:59 PM
Julie from New Jersey

I was very touched by the interview of Barbara Harris and her daughter Destiny. I disagree with the negative judgmental attitude of the interviewer, calling the promotion of birth control for addicted women an infringement upon reproductive rights.

1.) Ms. Harris and her husband are relatively unique: they fall into a small group of people who adopt or foster children whose parents are not able to care for them. That they have chosen to adopt several siblings of an addicted mother and care for them lovingly entitles them to speak out. This is in contrast to many "right-to-life" and anti-birth control promoters, who instead want to cut welfare and food stamps; people who would insist that these children be born, but would not provide a social structure to feed and nurture them.

2.) "Reproductive freedom" is a troublesome buzzword. With this freedom comes reproductive responsibility. People who churn out children year after year and are unable to care for them are dysfunctional and in need of guidance. To encourage them to use contraception is a positive, pro-active approach. Although I am pro-choice and feel there is a place for interruption of pregnancy, I do not advocate abortion as a primary means of birth control.

3.) It is inappropriate to equate contraception to a life not lived. Many children are born into abject poverty and hunger. When women in these circumstances are empowered with contraception and the ability to control family size and timing of births, the standard of living of whole populations improves markedly. This is a proven fact.

4.) Fetal alcohol syndrome adversely affects afflicted children of alcoholic mothers. Infants born of addicted mothers experience significant pain and dysphoria, requiring intensive medical treatment. Better to prevent these outcomes than to passively promote them by social inactivity.

5.) As the Zeitgeist of the nation turns towards less government, lower taxes, and decreased funding of social "entitlements" like food stamps and welfare, helping prevent unwanted births is reasonable. It seems unlikely that someone who repeatedly turns her children over to welfare agencies for adoption really wants those children.

6.) An IUD is one of the safest, easiest forms of birth control. When pregnancy is desired the device is easily removed. Even tubal ligation (referred to here as "sterilization", which is an emotionally laden term that conjures up racism and discrimination) is a frequent means of birth control for women of all classes. It is often reversible by minor surgery, and can be circumvented by in-vitro fertilization.

Until medical science develops an effective cure for addiction, there will continue to be many medically and socially disadvantaged children born to addicted mothers. Pursuing an elective social solution to these unwanted pregnancies is a reasonable approach.

Mar. 04 2013 04:52 PM
Richard from USA

Let me start by saying I am a survivor of a drug addicted mother and the foster system. I was 11 years old when I was adopted, and this fact is the thing that changed my life for the better. This means I am the extreme minority as is Destiny. She clearly says that her case was a “jackpot” situation and I agree with her position 100% (both on her case and on being born). For every kid like Destiny, there are thousands who don’t get adopted or fall prey to situations beyond their control. Even kids who are adopted into loving homes are often so damaged that no amount of love or help seems to but their lives back on track.

What I find most disturbing is the “7 of 8” comment at the end. The whole “they came out ok” comment is pretty ignorant. Because these children made it to college or aren’t in jail means they turned out ok? How can one quantify the turmoil and strife that went to making a turnout ok? Surviving withdrawals at birth is ok as long as you don’t show any obvious long term effects? The result of surviving successfully doesn’t make the road getting there any less harrowing or wrong. There is an ever widening ripple of consequences that don’t always play out in the public eye, but do show in the long term for children of addicts, and broken families as well. But, according to this episode, it’s acceptable as long as it turns out “OK.”

Finally, to play they tired hand by suggesting Destiny wouldn’t have existed if her mother had been on birth control is facetious and disingenuous. Using her daughter to drive the point is just an emotional deception. I think asking the question means you have missed the point entirely. How about asking “what if Barbara Harris hadn’t adopted Destiny, what would her fate have been?” Statistically, it would be bleak, and that is the issue.

Mar. 04 2013 09:54 AM
Camille from Oklahoma City

The birth of addicted or prenatally-exposed infants to women who use drugs could be essentially eliminated if every woman in America had good access to free contraception. Coercion would not be necessary. Women do not want to bring a baby into the world whom they cannot parent well. This issue, like so many others, comes down to the lack of a basic human right -- adequate health care -- by so many of our citizens.

Mar. 03 2013 04:56 PM
Chuck

So I tabulated the comments on this story. There were 2 positive comments, 4 neutral expressions, 2 mistaken unfinished posts and 1 request for the music. That's 6(charitably) favorable opinions out 60 responses, meaning fully 90% of commenters had a virulent negative reaction and harsh criticisms of this piece. It also included and apparently sincere invitation to explore a side of the issues presented that in hindsight should have been an obvious part of the story--seeing the life of grown drug babies with bad outcomes.

Will Radiolab do a followup or respond in some way to this audience reaction? It seems warranted.

Mar. 03 2013 01:02 PM
JB

This story was twee, weak, sentimental, patronizing mansplaining at its very worst. Yellow rain quality. What a pathetic, navel-gazing, self-indulgent, sad show Radiolab has become.

Mar. 03 2013 11:42 AM
Maggi Wagner from St. Louis

1. Harris wants to prevent pregnancy in women who are in no shape to deal with pregnancy, much less childbirth, much less a baby, much less a complicated and perhaps damaged child. How, may I ask, is that not providing assistance to a drug-addicted woman? Maybe Harris' assistance is not the kind of help the writer's girlfriend would offer, but it IS assistance. If you don't think so, talk to a working or poor woman from pre 1963 and The Pill.

2. For this writer to ask whether anyone would rather that Destiny never be born is naive and beside the point. The same question could be leveled as an argument against all birth control!

Mar. 02 2013 06:54 PM
Mary from Indianapolis Indiana

A child born to a drug addicted mother will experience pain and suffering as well as possible long term effects due to the mothers reckless behavior. This is child abuse and society needs to stand up and say enough and not allow her to continue to cause pain . This is no slippery slope! Rather by preventing birth by women who have proven abuse you have protected a defenseless child. Please put your moral outrage where it belongs.

Mar. 02 2013 06:01 PM
ocean1 from off shore

The ending was powerful, but interestingly I am one of two college educated and middle class parents who gave birth to an only child who in infancy mimicked the withdrawal symptoms you mentioned, but no drugs, no alcohol, This loved child who was breast fed and nurtured was parented by both well intentioned college educated types. Our 20 year old son may or may not currently be manifesting a mental health disorder. He did choose to live on the streets recently. I listened, enrapt, to this program and realize the outcomes for a child have only remotely to do with how much love or how much nurturing....it's all a roll of the dice. I can only take refuge in the adage that children choose their parents. Thank you for raising the questions you raised by broadcasting this program.

Mar. 02 2013 04:07 PM
Sue from NY

I don't understand where the 'science' was in this segment - just a poorly disguised platform for a pro-life point of view. Because this one child had the incredible luck to be adopted into a wonderful and generous family, one willing and able to support yet another generation, Destiny's child, the listener is supposed to fade off, along with the poignant, echoing music, believing that this is best left to fate, treated in a hands-off manner. As others have stated, where was the interview with any one of the multitude of women who took Ms. Harris' money and didn't regret her choice, or even one who did? I'm left wondering what the point was in running this story, and whether I'm going to bother tuning in next week.

Mar. 02 2013 01:11 PM
Ann from New York

I was appalled to hear this story on NPR. Are these hosts against birth control? What about all of the women who use birth control for years - think of all those children that are never born. Furthermore, employed middle class women have many financial incentives not to have children or more children. I have three children, and I stayed home for 3-12 months with each of them when they were born. I make over $100,000 per year, making the cost of another maternity leave quite high. Additionally, I would have to pay for daycare, because my husband works too. My parents got me through college, and I hope to do the same for my children. In total, my own financial incentive for not having more children is probably orders of magnitide higher than the amount Barbara offers. The fact that Destiny came out well has nothiing to do with anytthing except good parentiing, hard work, and good luck. And the people who point out that addicted women need more than birth control should start their own program instead of complaining that Barbara's doesn't do enough.

Mar. 02 2013 11:22 AM
Betty

I think Barbara has beautiful intentions, and more wisdom and insight about the situation, as an adoptive mother to such children, than most. I do feel personally, though, that just offering to pay women not to have children is a little bit of an easy fix for a big issue. These women need more help than just birth control. They would benefit so much more from addiction counseling and maybe a job and a safe place to live, like the organization mentioned in the producer's note at the end of this article provides. I wish the story, if they had to criticize her at all, chose to explore that issue instead.

Mar. 01 2013 11:38 PM

Barbara Harris is absolutely brilliant. There is nothing controversial about it.
Get over it.

Feb. 21 2013 05:43 PM
Liz from NYC

What a facile and one-sided report. Everyone in this story discusses the substance-abusing mothers as if they have no agency in the situation whatsoever, and their accepting money in exchange for committing to birth control is presented as a Faustian bargain which they could only conceivably be making to get more drugs. It never occurs to anyone in the story that these women may not want to be having children in their condition, and that continually becoming pregnant may be yet another factor impeding them from getting their lives on track. The sectors of society with the most drug use and poverty are also those that have the least access to birth control and abortion services, and Barbara's program seems like just another avenue (albeit a patronizing one) for under-served women to gain access to birth control. Like so many public discussions of birth control, all the focus is on the hypothetical child, and none is on the mother. I really wish the Radiolab team could have also interviewed one of the mothers who participated in Barbara's program instead of acting like their motivations for accepting the money and committing to birth control are unimportant. Instead, we're given a wishy-washy and patronizing discussion of whether or not drug-addicted babies can go on to lead fulfilling lives. First the awful Yellow Rain report, now this - the Radiolab team has really dropped the ball this season.

Jan. 06 2013 03:06 PM
Daphne from California

I have to add my appalled voice to the chorus. I think my time of listening to Radio Lab might be coming to an end. The question he posed to Destiny is unfair and gross. What if Destiny had never been born? Well, what about all of the wonderful children that MIGHT be born to all of the selfish women who refuse to have children? I'm 35, and have yet to have a single baby! Think of all of the wonderful people I've denied life to! Really, they should just round up me and every other childless woman in the U.S., put us in camps, and force us to have as many children as our uteri can handle, just to ensure that no wonderful people are denied a chance at life! The women who have birth control implanted have a CHOICE. That's how it should be.

Jan. 03 2013 07:27 PM

I felt I had to take a few minutes to register my dropped jaw at the inane views expressed by the hosts at the end of the recent Inheritance podcast. The naif reporters/producers can perhaps be excused for voicing the "you wouldn't have been born" concern about the attempts to limit unwanted births, but the other guy on the podcast, Robert K., must be old enough to remember this is just the same canned argument we have heard ad naseaum from anti-abortionists. Only Destiny herself had the intellectual integrity to say, No, knowing what I do about my parentage, I would not have wanted to be born. Bravo, Destiny! You rose head and shoulders above the 3rd-grade reporting of your story.

Jan. 01 2013 02:38 PM
Erica from NYC

Wow. The commenters seem very upset. I confess, I don't quite understand why. It didn't seem to me the Radiolab-guys were taking a firm position but merely exploring the issues. And these issues do not seem particularly black and white to me. I know a very wealthy family that raised 3 children and all appeared very normal. To everyone. But the truth was that there was extreme neglect and some degree of outright abuse. And the 3 children suffer the after effects terribly to this day. Does that mean we should target wealthy families for birth control? Considering how much of the world's resources they use, I might very well say, YES. Why are poor struggling people the SPECIFIC targets? Why not horrible people with hearts of stone? The birth control program doesn't sound all bad, but the idea behind it does seem troubling.

Dec. 30 2012 12:52 PM
sandra from ny, ny

Went to the website this morning because I was going to donate for the holidays. Decided to listen to this episode because I hadn't heard a radiolab in awhile. Utterly hack journalism! The topping on the cake was entitling it "what if there was no destiny" embarrassing. absolutely embarrassing. Reminds me of the title of the amazingly bad Janet Jackson movie, Poetic Justice where the character was named Justice.

I mean the logic in this piece of work is about as sophisticated as an evangelical bible camp seminar. As a 30 year old woman, i lose sleep every night because I've deprived the world of the 15 children I could have had by now if it hadn't been for the horrors of birth control. I commend Barbara for what she is doing. I don't see what is controversial about providing drug addicts access to birth control. Every baby should be born wanted and loved.
I will not be donating to Radiolab, I will be donating to project protection this year. I used to love this show, but this piece was so embarrassingly bad, smarmy, pat and poorly reasoned that I really don't want to listen to radiolab again.

Dec. 23 2012 06:27 PM
William Litsch

Environment doesn't play politics: The simple fact is that the planet is over-populated. If we continue with the religious ideology, presented by the host of that segment, that to have not procreated would have been to retro-actively kill Destiny, than we will have been left with no responsible way to control our own population, which can be done fairly without insulting human rights. If it is not done there won't be room for cows, or swine, or chickens. We will have to start eating ourselves cause we'll be all that's left. And besides the retro-active killing "logic" of the host could be used equally as well on every little sperm that could have met an egg that instead met a tissue after I masturbated. What am I a murder now. The Catholic church presented a similar fallacious argument about condoms. Man that segment just reeked of poor judgement. Normally I am put in awe by your program and not because of religious or ideological fervor, but because of your search for truths and answers and good questions. Those were entirely absent from this last segment. Shame on you. Despite that, in general, I love the show. Presuming you do segments like this rarely.

Dec. 20 2012 03:18 AM
William Litsch

That last post was a misfire. It posted without my telling it to somehow... as I was saying. I am a long time listener of Radiolab. I have listened to every podcast. The last segment of this show was terrible, and not just because of the poor treatment of Barbara and her activism. The whole logic of the segment was tortured, maudlin, and grossly misrepresented. The lack of PC was refreshing, the only good thing about the segment. As someone who has been an activist for a long time and been involved in workshops to help undo institutionalized racism I can tell you that PC is considered an obstacle to genuine discussion. Lets have a discussion. Point by point:

Eugenics: Eugenics is trying to create a race of super-humans to the exclusion of other supposedly inferior races. Barbera is in a multi-racial family by choice and had more compassion for children she didn't even know of a different race than anyone on your broadcast hands down. To portray her or anything she advocated as even coming close to eugenics is absolutely ridiculous. The product of a feeble mind divorced from reality and married to the Catholic/Christian mythology of procreation serves gods will, whether they realize it or not.

Forced Sterilization: Forced sterilization, which African American and Native American women have sometimes undergone without their knowledge in this country, is wrong. Was it anywhere near what Barbera was doing? No. Barbera was offering women two choices a temporary IUD and a permanent sterilization and offering a monetary reward. If women didn't want sterilization they could get an IUD so there is not even one slight modicum of a concern regarding human rights. I have long been an activist for human rights as well so this is important to me.

Barbera's actual issue: Her issue was not even discussed by the hosts. The issue of concern, as opposed to the imaginary ones already mentioned, was children who were born at a disadvantage and that possible had no one like Barbera who can love them and take care of them. There are many children who were not wanted and who do not end up being cared for by a loving family. Barbera is trying to prevent the needless suffering of children and the burden that is being placed on society that is forced to take responsibility for irresponsible mothers. We are animals, human beings. Barbera didn't say every mother has a litter, but some do. The ones she was most concerned with. To deny that is to deny reality because you want to place humans in some kind of superior cosmology as separate from animals and nature and so we have the supernatural right to procreate until our uterus's fall out. Again, a totally ridiculous conception...

Dec. 20 2012 12:33 AM
William Litsch

Hi,

Dec. 19 2012 11:01 PM
John Brown from Utah

The logic that Destiny's life with her daughter is so beautiful that it is wrong to offer her mother the opportunity for birth control (because that beauty wouldn't exist) comes seemingly close to the argument made by the no-exceptions anti-abortionists that even with rape a beautiful child and potentially beautiful life can result. That is was God's will. It would have been interesting to hear the Lab Guys discuss this. Does this wonderful end justify the means?

Dec. 18 2012 03:48 PM
Celebrindal

In the end, this discussion ends in the choice of the woman...right? There's pros and cons to every decision, and the women taking/or not taking the financial gain for long term/permanent birth control are making the choice as they see fit.

Dec. 17 2012 11:27 AM


Radio Lab waves the flag of "searching for the truth" high in the air and that makes these soap box, pro-life closing comments all the more disturbing. When Destiny's daughter plays with a basketball and laughs (and we're told she is an "oops" child) we are not only asked to accept that crack addicts who have !!eight!! unplanned children are exercising their rights (and if they make it to college, hey that's okay, and oh there is always someone there to clean up the aftermath)...

...We are asked to accept and support the idea that even young single parents (and it's usually the women) are purely blessed, rather than burdened people who will struggle to later care for aging parents and themselves, will struggle to put children through college and acquire basic necessities, and will have children who generally struggle because their parents are younger and less educated than others. Sorry, them's the facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_pregnancy#Results

The idea of preventing unwanted births and teen pregnancy is not a question of whether children capable of *happiness* will be born, it is a question of how ready is the parent to take care of these children and can they wait a few more years before they have kids? Or wait until they are in a better frame of mine?

What's worse is the Radio Lab's team's responses to these situations are markedly 1st world: there is the sense that someone will always follow after these careless MEN & WOMEN and make it better, and that people will just happen to mostly land in the safety net of a carrying mom or grand parent.

I'd go so far as to say this segment was a "creepy" closing in this episode... lauded at the start as a "happy ending".

Let's face it: For the same reason we have vaccines that prevent Polio, after which someone's life could also be "blessed, beautiful and hold new meaning" we choose to prevent a certain way of living in preference for one that shows the possibility of being easier, more healthful, and more practical. Having a limited number of children and having them at the right time is not a pie in the sky idea.

Indeed there is a way of carelessly creating people, that leads to a less bountiful world. Surely Radio Lab will help us remember that: as we search for new ideas that help us live better lives and let science play a role in making good decisions--- rather than shoving cute babies in our face and asking if we really have to be more hard on ourselves at this very instant...

Exhausting!!

Dec. 07 2012 12:47 PM
roseyroo from Mumbai, India

What is the music played on close of this segment (final close)? I always see people asking about the music... can there be a default that music notes always gets posted somewhere near the heading of the article? This seems as relevant as the keywords that get included up top. it would save listeners time in asking again and again and it would give credit where credit is due to the artists who are sampled.

Again--what is the music that is played on close? Sounds like bells or xylophone...

Dec. 07 2012 11:48 AM
Sem

Drug users should not have children, if we can pay them not too, that is money well spent.

I totally agree with Destiny at the end - there is no problem with never having existed in the first place, non-existent people do not regret not existing.

I also think using 1 family makes your same size kind of small... most crack babies do not end up in a good place, check the stats.

Dec. 06 2012 08:53 AM
Bethany Powell from Portland, Oregon

Preventing children from being conceived by mothers who don't want those children is not the same as undoing people who are alive already. How can this difference not register? I won't even begin to argue about all the other aspects of this topic. Bottom line is that since we don't have a way of witnessing a parallel universe where Destiny was never born, the question "what if there was no Destiny" is completely specious and manipulative. Of course we don't want to undo people's lives. Even if a person didn't make it to college and were him or herself a drug addict, suffering and living in a gutter, I would never say that that person couldn't experience moments that could be described as perfect or that that person should never have existed. Of course not. But an imagined child that was never conceived is not a loss to humanity. It is nothing. It doesn't exist. Setting aside the argument over how the help is offered - to suggest that helping drug addicted women, or any women for that matter, prevent the conception of children that they don't want is somehow tragic? That is nothing short of insane.
One thing I would love to undo is the last ten minutes of this radiolab episode. I am an enormous fan of the show and was literally nauseated when I heard this. I wish I lived in a parallel universe where they had recognized how awful it was before airing it.

Dec. 05 2012 06:27 PM
James from Richmond, VA

Bad science, sloppy journalism. Too busy to get the data?

7 out of how many? (not 8).
7 turned out "OK", what is the criteria? "going to college"?
Why did they turn out "OK"? How often are those conditions replicated?
How do those 7 compare with the other thousands?

Then Krulwich can say, "Whatever the data, or the topic, I want everyone to know I'm Pro-Life."

Dec. 04 2012 11:32 PM
JC

Here are my thoughts as a woman/feminist/person who cares about the world in a nutshell:

Long-term birth control = good. reasonable. reversible. agency remains with the woman.

Sterilization = What the HELL is WRONG with you?!

I don't know what else to say. People make choices. We can all be judgmental and angry about choices people make, but ultimately, it's coercive to offer women in a vulnerable position money for a permanent, life-altering procedure. I'm a little peeved that Radiolab didn't address the big issue in this story (the mothers, since it's about inheritance after all). I feel that it's a bit lazy to say that this family is representative and leave it at that. Pat was trying to be Hallmark-y about a larger issue that is too complex to reduce and put in a cute frame (and Clea was pretty cute).

Sorry Radiolab. I'm not trying to be mean. I like your show and have donated to you guys a couple times, but this segment falls very short. On the plus side, I learned something new since I missed this news story blowing up while I was in middle school.

Dec. 04 2012 07:53 PM

fagtron said
"The sight of so many commenters wetting their diapers in outrage over this and the "Yellow Rain" segment indicates to me that Radiolab is doing something right. They are trying to provoke expansive discussion on difficult issue [...], and that's hard to do without offending people."

There are plenty of things that cause offence without "doing something right": consider the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, internet trolls, or sociopaths. There are also ways to inspire debate without offending people. From Radiolab's recent gaffes, I would have to guess that they are trying to provoke discussion on whether or not they should still be on the air.

Dec. 03 2012 11:28 PM
Rebecca from San Francisco

I feel compelled to echo what many of the other comments here have said - in general I am a huge Radiolab fan, but Pat Walters' framing of this issue is preposterous. How can anyone possibly say that Destiny's happy existence is an argument against Barbara Harris's program? That just doesn't compute. The world doesn't need more babies born into it just because they might grow up to be great people. Babies are not conceived and not born every second, and their non-existence is in no way a tragedy. The only thing Destiny's happy existence IS an argument in favor of is loving foster parents, willing to take on the challenge of raising kids born to drug-addicted mothers. THAT is what the world needs more of.

It seemed as though the offensive things Barbara Harris said about drug-addicted women completely distracted you from any attempt at a thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of her program. The question here is not whether or not Barbara Harris is a "cold" person (which is, by the way, an embarrassing question to ask a loving foster mom of babies born addicted to drugs), and it's not how well Destiny and her biological siblings turned out. It's whether or not offering to pay drug-addicted women to be on birth control is a good idea. I

It's strange and disappointing that you guys would all stray so far from rational thought on this one. Normal I appreciate a reporter who can see two sides of an issue and appreciate ethical ambiguity, but you seemed to be seeing the gray areas in all the wrong places here.

But thanks, in general, for your wonderful show! Being disappointed by this segment only points out what an exception it is.

Dec. 03 2012 06:45 PM
Meg from Chicago

I was so disappointed by this segment and so surprised to be disappointed. I kicked off this segment excited by what was coming since I'm an adoptive parent and really wanted to hear what they'd say about about the experience of raising a child you have no genetic link with. Instead, we have a segment in which no one bothers to put any air between Norplant and tubal litigation; in which a prevented pregnancy has an equal and opposite in a living person. Such a surprisingly sentimental and shallow bit of reporting from such a normally reliably excellent source and such a missed opportunity.

Dec. 03 2012 01:28 PM
MoarSciencePlz

@Hayley from Eugene
"Should alcoholics [WHO ARE STILL DRINKING] be encouraged not to reproduce?"
Hell, yes! An untreated addict is very likely to be a lousy parent no matter WHICH is their chosen substance.(I added the qualifier to your quote. I hope I am right in assuming that you feel as I do that addicts who have gotten clean are not the problem here.)

"There is definitely something coercive about what she does."
So, offering a small amount of money to these grown women is excessively coercive, but subjecting tiny children to the "care" of a drug-addled mom isn't? I think you haven't really considered the imbalances of power very carefully.

Nov. 30 2012 02:16 PM
Hayley from Eugene

"Crack babies" are a myth. For starters, here's a NYTimes article, but there's plenty of published research suggesting that neonatal exposure to crack does not lead to life-long disability. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27coca.html?pagewanted=all

Heavy exposure to alcohol, on the other hand, can result in mental retardation. Should alcoholics be encouraged not to reproduce?

I thought this Radiolab episode did a good job in a limited time frame introducing the controversy around Barbara's bill. There is definitely something coercive about what she does. "Crack" and "heroin" are scare words. We often assume worse of the crack addict than of the alcoholic. Both are diseases and both have treatments.

That said, it seems like Barbara's project is providing women with a real service: birth control. Access to affordable, usable birth control is still far from being universal in this country. Barbara's intention may or may not to be to coerce drug-using women to stop having babies, but I think for a lot of these women, she ends up empowering them to take control of their reproduction.

And IUTs are not forever!

Nov. 30 2012 12:39 PM
Patrick from Portland, ME

Hey, most people that get born don't lead miserable lives. I guess that means everyone should be making as many babies as possible. Just imagine all the wasted potential in a condom. Just imagine all the beautifully human moments that will never be.

Nov. 29 2012 04:18 PM

Sarah from Somewhere who posted a comment on Nov. 23 2012 at 01:36 PM, you I want to meet, fall in love, and not have kids with. Leaving that aside,
I agree with everything you (and so many others) wrote and felt precisely the same way while listening to this segment. I still do. I find it troublingly confusing that our culture blithely takes for granted that every fetus should come to term no matter what or that while most of us can find common ground that there should be no unwanted infants born, that life itself has such an unimpeachable premium as to override any and all counterarguments. To be sure, Pat Walters is entitled to his own opinion. But that a show seeped in science and nuanced thoughtfulness should present such a sentimental and irritatingly biased perspective of a serious subject is frustrating to say the least. I do believe Radiolab is better; I think we all do -- and this is what has motivated folks to respond to this story.

The short vignette at the end with the basketball, come on! It was a Pollyanna of maudlin pornography! A perfect moment? Sorry to sound like a jerk, but who is going to remember this one out of umpteen trillion moments in what will be the sum total of this child's life? Is it important? Meaningful? Probably not. Does the inherent cuteness of it validate with absolute moral certitude all the sequences up to that point as though saying, "See?! this is why all you naysayers and pro-lifers are wrong! If it were up to you, this adorable moment would never have happened." Yes, and... I mean, so what?! Nobody knows about the daily displays of appallingly adorable cuteness my cats exhibit -- arguably much more amusing than a toddler with a basketball -- and guess what: no one's the worse for it! But my cats leave as infinitesimally small a carbon footprint on this poor old planet of ours as a living thing can. Can someone who gave birth to eight unintentional children say the same?

I am not one to leave comments on websites, but this piece moved me so. Call me callous, or even racist, but I personally have no problem with the comment of "breeding like dogs" or referring to babies as a litter. This is really a pejorative? Would a different animal metaphor be more germane, or are we as species/culture uncomfortable with being reminded that we are, after all, animals -- animals, it's helpful to be reminded, whose population keeps increasing with each century regardless of carrying capacity and as if nothing could be more natural. Actually, nothing could be more unnatural. And for the record, I don't have kids, don't want to have kids, and elected to have a voluntary vasectomy as soon as I could afford one in my late 20s. I am a college dropout who makes $11.50 an hour doing manual labor. Maybe I'm a little extreme, but I think we would all do well to question having kids first before just assuming it's our, um, destiny.

Nov. 29 2012 12:54 PM
fagtron

The sight of so many commenters wetting their diapers in outrage over this and the "Yellow Rain" segment indicates to me that Radiolab is doing something right. They are trying to provoke expansive discussion on difficult issues (ironically, a goal successfully borne out by all the criticism and other assorted comments), and that's hard to do without offending people. They shouldn't be liable for an offense-free show. If anything, humans have already consistently demonstrated an incredible capacity to be offended by almost anything, so it's a fool's errand to attempt to craft such an offense-free show.

It's a show about science, so take a look at the history of science. It's often dealt with issues of morality, society, etc, in fact controversy seems to be part of the DNA of science. Therefore, not every segment should be about the caterpillar's genome or other such topics sure to be received neutrally by all listeners. Commenters asking the show to "go back to science" don't understand the scope of what science actually impinges on. The history of science also is replete with bitter controversies, hostilities, uncertainties, etc, all sure to provoke offense, suggesting to me that a show about science inevitably will and should provoke offense unless it's hell-bent on pussy-footing around everyone's fragile sensibilities.

Some mentioned complaints of "overly emotional reporting", as if a science show introducing the human element is really such a bad idea. You know, scientists, always known for their soft, emotional, fuzzy beliefs. If you want a science show that's devoid of human sentiment, you don't have to look very hard to find one.

I think that, based on what I've heard, I generally support the idea of what Barbara is doing, but to suggest that therefore this piece was a hatchet job on her because of some interspersed commentary, is silly. They presented plenty of nuance and let both sides speak, and then gave their own opinion, which by the way they've been known to do since approximately forever. Commenters here are pissed that Radiolab didn't ultimately espouse their own opinion, not that they had an opinion to begin with. There's no such thing as objective journalism and journalists should be free to say on air how they feel, especially as a footnote to a rounded, nuanced discussion.

Despite this defense of Radiolab, the show is basically highly-engaging, well-produced fluff. If seen as such it's a delightful show, but if seen as something more sober and substantive listeners are bound to be let down. If you want a sober, substantive show check out BBC's "In Our Time", which I strongly recommend.

Nov. 29 2012 02:48 AM
fagtron

The sight of

Nov. 29 2012 02:15 AM
Sheila Sutton from Miami

This story leaves out a very relevant point. Lots and lots of people are born into families with substandard parents (emotionally distant parents, parents with mental illness, parents who abuse, parents who leave, parents who look the other way when they suspect their children are being sexually abused, parents who will never accept their gay, lesbian or transgendered children), and I could go on. I am one of those people who was born to less than stellar parents (though none were drug users).

My parents themselves were survivors of emotional and physical abuse and some neglect. I love my grandparents (they were good grandparents, but their parenting was problematic). My mother had schizophrenia (diagnosed many years after I was born, and her grandmother died in an insane asylum in the 1950s). So here is the trick, I am glad to be on this planet. I am in graduate school, I have been an activist, volunteer and worked at non-profits. I am a good sister, friend and partner. All told my life has been a journey and I am a successful being at being me.

It is the luck of the draw who we get born to, and how we turn out. Yes there are genetic factors, but they are not purely determinstic. Some are born to "good families", and become runaways, drug addicts, convicts, rapist, murders. Some kids whose parents were drug addicted at the time of their birth are greatly impacted by the drugs and some less so. Different substances have different outcomes. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is significantly different from drug use. These two issues should not be conflated. Moreover, alcohol is a legal substance. I would like to go beyond the anecdotal evidence and look to different scholarly studies of what exactly the long term effects of specific substances are and what the NUANCES of those effects are. I spent sometime doing that, with mixed and unclear results.

What about Jeffrey Dahmer, Jared Lee Loughner, or Timothy McVeigh, to name a few mass murders of our current day and time who brought pain and suffering to many. What did there parents have in common? Middle class-ness? or maybe it was divorce. My point is that we embark on a slippery slope when we try determine who should have kids. The science of today (I am a believer in science) can sometimes be proven wrong by the science of tomorrow. For a long time I feared having children because of my mother's schizophrenia. Now I know that it is not purely determinant. I may to have biological children. I most certainly will adopt and foster children in my future.. In most studies I saw, being exposed to drugs in the womb, was hard to distinguish from issues of lack of medical care, and poor nutrition, and other factors of poverty, like neglect. These things can be mitigated, by nurturing (diet/nutrition/education/ counseling/love) a good environment. So yes I will take in "damaged" children when i finish my PhD, because I was one of those damaged children (not from drugs) and i am alive here and proud.

Nov. 28 2012 07:00 PM
Rennie

You guys are acting like Barbara is forcing these women to have abortions or to be on birth control. She is giving them a choice. If they want to go to treatment, there are centers for that too. No one is lambasting the anti-birth control places for having singular missions. This is Barbara's mission. There will be no shortage of crack babies out there.

Nov. 28 2012 03:20 PM
David from Seattle, WA

The sentimentality at the end of this episode was almost unbearable, not to mention completely illogical. That said, I really enjoy 7 out of 8 radio lab episodes. And that's, um, some sort of math...

Nov. 28 2012 02:54 PM

I enjoyed this story very much. Thanks.

Nov. 28 2012 10:44 AM
Thomas from CA

Please stop with the sentimentality. The old Radiolab episodes were so much fun to listen to. But now it seems like every episode is twisted into something emotional and controversial. Segments like these with social and moral commentary do not fit the original format that I enjoyed several years ago. I actually really enjoyed this particular segment until the last few minutes.

Nov. 28 2012 12:55 AM
Elizabeth from Brooklyn

I am so disappointed with this segment, and with the fact that I am commenting to a show that I have loved for the first time with a bad review. Ending the show with Pat Walters' ridiculous sentimentality on a serious issue to which thousands of social workers and scientists and counselors and parents devote their lives was irresponsible at best. To have Robert Krulwich say "7 out of 8? That's a different kind of odds" was lazy and unscientific. This is not the normally excellent Radiolab sketch of an idea; rather, it was an under-researched and poorly edited mistake.

Maybe you should have looked to the earlier segments and to the role of epigenetics in shaping human behavior and stated, on air, the role that supportive adoptive parents like Barbara Harris (and presumably the other "successful" children of this drug addicted mother) play in their success. Those kids were very, very lucky, certainly not the norm, and Destiny herself said so. You should have left the final word with her, not a reporter who evidently has no idea what he's talking about.

Barbara Harris's voluntary program maybe be faulted, or it may not be - who am I to say? Until I am ready to adopt 4 children of a drug addicted mother into my home, I will not judge.

Nov. 27 2012 07:35 PM
Joe from Western US

This is the last time I will be listening to Radiolab. I have heard so many great shows from these guys, but it is not worth it anymore to me. I was actually yelling at the radio this time. (The first time I was actually bothered by this show was "Fact of the Matter") This story is in no way the norm. A large majority of children who are abandoned by drug addicted mothers end up having serious problems of their own. The most misleading part of this story is something Krulwich says "7 out of 8 are just fine" - That is SUCH A RARE CASE!!! The comments above are excellent. I also have a deeply personal connection to addiction and addicted children. The story, and Pat, are either INTENTIONALLY MISLEADING THE LISTENERS, or TOO LAZY to do any real research. Thanks for the show and I am sorry that you had to lose me and my family as listeners.

Nov. 27 2012 05:09 PM
Lei from Philadelphia

I am very disappointed at this episode. Barbara did a great thing for humankind and Radiolab sounded like pro-life rightists. The question is not whether children of drug-addicts have value; the question is whether drug-addicts should have birth controls so they don't expose children to drugs!! Children don't choose to be born and shouldn't be subjected to grossly irresponsible behavior of adults.
As the criticism of Barbara goes, the most relevant one is that those women might use the money for more drugs and thus perpetrate the cycle. So a program that provides free birth control for those women would have no such problem. However I suspect that many drug-addicts are not functional enough to care.

Nov. 27 2012 03:12 PM
John from Houston, TX

BRAVO to Barbara! I think the fact that Barbara was offering an OPTION instead of forcing something on these women was completely overlooked. People quick to criticize what Barbara was trying to do made it seem as though she wasn't giving the drug-addicted women a choice when in fact she was. You might be saying "well no drug-addicted woman can turn down $200".. Who then, would be making assumptions. I think there should be more programs like this out there. As a former addict myself I feel it is important to think outside the box when dealing with addiction and societal issues. If nothing else, because we are still learning what will work. In the world of addiction, not many solutions have been found! Loved the story! AS ALWAYS!

Nov. 26 2012 09:27 PM
Haley from Sydney, NSW, Australia

This segment felt more like an introduction to a much, much, larger discussion about Barbara's programs and issues concerned with its practices. While I am a huge advocate for free and accessible birth control, Barbara's program seems extremely coercive. She certainly has the best of intentions, and I fully understand her motivation, but offering a person in an altered mental state money to be sterilized seems extremely short-sighted, to say the least. It's clear that Barbara holds a very low opinion of drug addicted women (that whole "breeding like dogs" comment) and isn't concerned with their well-being in the long run.

Radiolab can't be expected to fit every aspect of a story into a twenty minute segment, but I wonder why the team didn't approach recovered drug addicts for their perspective on the story. There seems to be a reoccurring problem with this show ignoring the voices of the people actually experiencing the issues being discussed.

Nov. 26 2012 07:36 AM
spacemanaki from Brooklyn, NY

I've been a long time fan of Radiolab but I'm starting to find it just a little frustrating due to other instances of sloppy science or overly emotional reporting, and the last segment of this show is a prime example. The show has always contained some editorializing, and I wouldn't want the show to be devoid of Jad and Robert's opinions and editorial "spin". But I think the line was crossed, and you should have left the very last 10 or 20 seconds on the cutting room floor, at the very least. If I heard right, there's some indirect relation between Robert Krulwich and the critic of Barbara's program? That combined with the flawed 7/8 suggested odds made the end of the show simply embarrassing to listen to. I think Radiolab can and should rise to a higher journalistic standard. Otherwise you'll end up really earning being categorized as "fluff" as I've read some commenters on Hacker News describe the show.

Nov. 25 2012 05:34 PM
Jen from Brooklyn

I agree with the majority of the commenters here: Pat Walters crapped the bed with his sentimental dreck, and Radiolab did us a disservice by not encouraging a re-edit and/or cutting the segment altogether. Barbara's mission is worthy of a deep conversation regarding race, class, real statistics for children born of drug-addicted mothers, families, underserved communities, and what we can do to effect change - not this treacly garbage. Having worked with children from such difficult circumstances, reality is much worse than Walters' insipid "a childhood that....sucks". No, Pat, it does not just "suck", children born into these worlds are strapped into a world of little hope, a generations-long cycle that destroys those within, from birth, life, through to death.

Nov. 25 2012 01:35 PM
Jean from Rochester, NY

Seriously? An argument AGAINST voluntary birth control for drug addicted women? What has happened over there at RadioLab, you all take some stupid pills? I thought the Yellow Rain segment was ill conceived, but at least it wasn't embarrassingly lame. What if there was no Destiny? Are you kidding me??!! That sentimental tripe is supposed to pass as a valid argument? Please reassure us you understand the naive irrationality of this common anti-abortion defense. I am chalking up this latest lapse to bias caused by the association with Krolich's sister and her piartner. And unless those two are adopting victim after victim of drug addicted mothers as Barbara is, they have no skin in this game and should shut their self-righteous yaps about it. Excuse me, I have to go donate money to Barbara now. I am so angry at the attempt to discredit this extraordinarily generous and admirable woman that I plan to ruin my finances for the month.

Nov. 24 2012 10:03 PM
JB from Colorado

About half of the listeners who have commented here seem to accuse Radiolab of being biased in favor of Barbara Harris. The other half seem to accuse Radiolab of being biased against Barbara Harris.

This is one of those "third rail" subjects that opens any presenter up to heated criticism from all sides. The fact that no one seems to be happy is perhaps the best indication that the piece was fair. I applaud them for tackling it.

I loved this piece. I thought it presented many sides of the issue, as fairly and as thoroughly as possible, given the format (Radiolab isn't a three-hour show). As usual, they're not telling the listeners what to think. They present a story, and they present ideas. They invite us to do our own research, contemplation and discussion, and draw our own conclusions (or not). Thank you Radiolab, for never underestimating or talking down to the audience. Another fine show.

Nov. 24 2012 10:03 PM

Let's all get anectodal. I Love Love Love Robert, and I'm sure his sister and his sister's partner are lovely. Really. However Lynn's video is horribly anecdotal. What are we saying? Crack babies will do fine? Sure we could find examples of that sentiment. We could highlight a few success stories, where the (once-crack baby) kids are now in school, with honors, but that is not the majority. Lynn says "the woman who I've worked with, who've had a history of drug problems aren't like the sample that she (Barbara) gives." And Pat quotes Lynn as saying "Often times women who have wanted help, have a really hard time finding it." This is not true. I mean there may be those who have a hard time finding help, but it's not like there are more programs like Barbara's than there are like what Lynn is doing.

I'm a Christian (I'm Sorry ---also I love Radiolab). I want to be more like Jesus...And Barbara is doing really really good work. I'm sorry that the reality is that she is "suckering" pregnant addicts into making a choice between $300 and bringing another child into the world, to hit them while they're vulnerable. But what's more preventative? A child coming into the world addicted to horrible drugs, with an often times, less-than-ideal future, or an addict scoring another hit?

Wouldn't you say, "I would give her 5 more hits of heroin, if only she wouldn't bring a baby into this world under that pressure?" I would. Even if it was a 50/50 chance that the child would find care, nurture, and normalcy....But 50/50 is not even close to reality.

Nov. 24 2012 12:33 PM

This segment fit well with the interesting subject theme of the episode, but fell short on presentation and follow-through, for me going past disappointing and entering into upsetting.

The segment's easy lumping together of safe, reversible IUD's with permanent sterilization procedures just because this particular woman's program offered those two options did not do justice to the significant differences between the two.

Some moral insinuations were trite and unexplored to their logical consequences. Do we have the moral imperative to collectively procreate as prolifically as possible so we maximize the potential "Destinies" in the world? As other commenters have pointed out, the piece suggested an "every sperm is sacred" ethic that deserves treatment more akin to Monty Python's tomfoolery than the gravity that Radiolab gave it here.

Among Radiolab's many strengths are typically its application of a scientific approach while engaging the subjective and imperfect inherent in science, acknowledging the mistake-prone, fits-and-starts process of human learning, and ultimately bringing some enlightening data, new information, or unique insight to bear on the subject at hand. I missed that key final element in this story. I for one hope this segment can be chalked up to mistakes made and lessons learned, honing the show -- like scientific knowledge -- toward an incrementally better version of its already-good self in the future.

Nov. 23 2012 06:44 PM
Sarah

For the first time I was extremely disappointed with Radiolab. Gary said it very well but I want to highlight this. The argument that sterilizing women (or offering long-term birth control which is very different) to a particularly group of high-risk women is a bad idea because great people like Destiny might not have been born is troubling. People argue against birth control and abortion with the same, extremely poor, argument. That perhaps by preventing a pregnancy we are missing out on Bach, Einstein or van Gogh (they always forget to mention the Hitlers, Stalins or Dahmers). Not only are the statistics incorrect and poorly presented, but the argument starts from a position that every potential birth is inherently good and should therefore be protected regardless.

If you or I were never born, we would never have known the difference. The world would not have known they were missing Mozart because it never happened. We know them because they happened. But then again, we forgot countless more who also happened. The potential pregnancies that didn't occur even without birth control far outnumber the pregnancies and births that do ultimately occur (few sperm ever fertilize, 1/3 of all pregnancies spontaneously abort). And we don't lament the billions that we will never know because they don't exist.

The discussion about the social issues surrounding how Barbara handles her project, how she contacts these women and what is really offered could have been had. A discussion about how addictions affect offspring or even several generations could certainly have fit in. Instead you offered support for a view that leads down the road of removing the opportunity for women to control their own lives and reproduction.

Quite frankly, when I stopped listening 5 minutes ago I was angry. I hope you can do better in the future, but I'm going to be very leery of future podcasts that discuss social issues as this was handled so poorly.

Nov. 23 2012 01:36 PM
Josh from Tallahassee, FL

To provide a counter-point to the negative comments:

I was disappointed and uncomfortable with the way RadioLab handled the RadioLab interview a few weeks ago, but I thought this piece was a thoughtful and nuanced look into a very difficult subject.

Obviously Barbara Harris should be commended for what she's done as an adoptive mother, but should that mean she's immune to criticism for this sterilization program? No, of course not. I don't think a lot of the previous commenters understand the history of women of color being involuntarily or semi-voluntarily sterilized, or realize how sensitive and fraught the issue is. And I also have to question whether the commenter who said Harris was simply giving a "choice" really understands how addiction affects a person. Saying it's just a "choice" for an addict to do something that will get them a significant sum of money is really reductive.

Nov. 22 2012 11:18 AM
Stephen

I am such a fan of this show, but this is a very disappointing segment. Incredibly disingenuous and manipulative. The story of Barbara and her adopted children and their biological siblings is, I agree, a wonderful story. Presenting it as a representative or generalizable case (which you very much did), is at best incredibly irresponsible. Has definitely lowered my opinion of the show.

Nov. 22 2012 09:57 AM

Radiolab is awesome but for the first time i'm so disappointed with the way this was handled. Gary from Long Island, NY, has basically said everything to a tee. having a counter argument is great and it's Radiolab's strength but in this case, it was pseudo counter and therefore not 'food for thought'. Honestly, the comment 'you could say 7 out of 8 kids are ok' is simply misleading and a terrible illustration of statistics. If you had presented these as peoples points of view, and then dug a littler deeper as Gary suggested, you would have found a truer, more honest story for your listeners to think about.

Presenting this in relation to eugenics WITHOUT counter arguments is just plain absurd. These people are sick, addicted to heroin - giving birth to children with an addiction. That's child abuse. Trying to argue Barbra's project is wrong with this argument is like saying convicted pedophiles should be able to have children... because, hey you never know, they might not get abused and 7 out of 8 (made up stats based on anecdotal evidence) are ok because they went to college! Childish argument at best. Radiolabs failure here was not the presentation of the argument (it's not their argument), it was the lack of what they are really very good at - digging in and saying ah.. but that's not really true is it?

rant over. Radiolab, keep up the great shows. Love your work :)

Nov. 22 2012 03:09 AM

So we are allowing a woman who is addicted to drugs to make a choice; she can prevent an infant from becoming addicted to drugs AND GET PAID or she can allow an infant to become addicted to drugs WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES.

When did giving drugs to babies become acceptable, even supported by organizations? Which political party is supporting drug addiction for babies? Which religion is that evil? The astonishingly feeble attempts at supporting drug addiction for babies are absurd and dismissible.

How sad that this opportunity for drug addicted women is not more widely available.

Nov. 22 2012 02:31 AM
Andy from New Zealand

I think many of you are missing the point of RadioLab. They are painting a picture, not presenting an argument for a particular point of view.

The last story was a particularly emotional one for the reporter so they're reporting based on that aspect as well. What does this "feel" like to be there - amongst it? "What if there was no Destiny?" was the question, and I feel like it's an interesting question to answer. Often logical conclusions have complicated realities.

They aren't trying to argue that birth control is bad because then people like Destiny won't be born - they just put ideas out there and let us the listeners experience it. Stop trying to pigeon hole them into being pro this or anti this... just experience it.

Nov. 21 2012 10:27 PM
bob

When Destiny was asked if she would have chosen to live or not live, given the choice, her answer was honest and I applaud her and ask those imposing their views on this topic to try to understand her answer and respect it. I have similar feelings when imagining if I had had the choice to live through years of abuse or not to live, and I choose the latter. Obtaining a graduate degree and professional career is not a sign of 'over-coming', but coping. I give Destiny more recognition, because she makes this hypothetical choice having had a privileged upbringing in terms of unconditional love. To be more scientific about the matter: is/was child abuse as prevalent in pre-hominid species, early humans and present indigenous peoples as it is in our modern cultures? Was there an evolutionary and cultural imperative/mechanism to weed child abuse out of the gene pool? Why can't parents bringing children into the world addicted to drugs be charged with child abuse?

Nov. 21 2012 10:25 PM

Pat Walters needs to be fired for presenting such a touchy subject in such a simplistic way. For the first time ever, I am questioning whether Radiolab has some hidden political agenda. Barbara Harris is a saint. I will be sharing her story with everyone I know.

Nov. 21 2012 05:02 PM
jf

I would strongly encourage people to watch the video linked above which features women responding to Project Prevention. http://vimeo.com/38633373

Truly free and voluntary participation? Hardly. Project Prevention's recruitment strategies rely on referrals from probation offices, jails, drug treatment programs, methadone clinics and law enforcement agencies. There have been reports of workers (and others) being paid a $50 referral fee. This strikes me as coercive.

Another classy thing about Project Prevention is that more than half of its clients are racial or ethnic minorities. Barbara Harris insists that Project Prevention doesn't target any particular race. As she explains:

"We target drug addicts, and that's it. Skin color doesn't matter, and we believe all babies matter, even black babies," and "If you're a drug addict, we're looking for you, and I don't care what color you are, because we don't even know what color your baby will be, because often these babies come out all different colors. They're mixed."

Like I said, classy. We should all be concerned about the health and wellbeing of pregnant and parenting women. But Project Prevention is a deeply misguided and problematic way of communicating that concern.

Nov. 21 2012 04:29 PM
Mark Matich from Los Angeles CA

I agree with a lot of the other commenters here. This whole segment felt to me like it took an argument I've heard often for abortion, that you never know how a child might turn out so they might beat the odds, except they took it even to this weird pseudo-catholic anti-birth-control zone.

When even the girl who was one of the few who ended up great and beat the odds tells you that she would rather have been born to a loving non-drug-addicted mother, doesn't that speak louder than anything else?

I personally know an ex-girlfriend of mine who's a drug addict. We had an abortion 12 years ago when I was 18 and I've often told people that it was the best choice I've ever made. I lived in Reno NV where the only thing to do is work in casinos and do meth. And that's what she did, even if most of the time she doesn't have a job. But I ran into her last year after not seeing her for about a decade, and she's had 4 kids, two have gone up for adoption, 1 lives with the dad and she never sees him, and the other lives with her. Although she recently relapsed and the kid is living somewhere else.

Barbara is giving these women choices. Nobody is forcing anything on anyone. And honestly I think the only time anyone can say that these women shouldn't do what they've done is if they're willing to open their homes to some crack babies and hope they beat the odds. Because otherwise your opinion is invalid.

Nov. 20 2012 11:20 PM

I totally support Gary, Robert and Solon comments, specially Gary's. I love your program and its high quality and standards, but I felt this segment lacking a broader view and perspective of the issue. I felt it like "this family case worked out fine, so let's assume all the other cases are the same". The focus seemed to be more in the short term effects of the drugs without taking much consideration of the social and family environments: are all the babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy that are set for adoption are adopted? What is the range of effects on the baby that are exposed to drugs during pregnancy?
I think an inclusion of what happens to kids that are not adopted, or that have to live with drug addict parent(s), would have given balance to the segment.
I agree that question #1 in Gary's comment is a ridiculous question. This is the kind of theoretical questions you cannot answer.
After seeing the consequences of drugs on babies, of the mess drug addiction causes in families and the scars it left on kids, I support Barbara's idea.
This is the kind of issues that do not see while you do not have to see it everyday or if somebody else picks up the tab (Social Services, the government, etc.).

Nov. 20 2012 02:13 PM
Gary from Long Island, NY

I love this show but for the first time I was disappointed at the handling of the segment on drug addicts having babies. The segment itself is intriguing but then you guys ruined it by leaving commentary like:

1)if you could choose between your life might ending up like that [homeless] and not being born at all what would you have done...
2)7 out of 8 kids [born to drug addict mom, 4 of whom were adopted by Barbara Harris] did alright... Thats a different kind of odds.

You are basically trying to make the argument that it is bad to sterilize drug addict women so they wont have kids because these kids might grow up like Destiny Harris and have cute little babies of their own and go to college like 7 of the 8 Harris kids did.

You should instead have dug up some statistics where it probably shows that children of drug addict moms don't do nearly as well in life as children of non-drug addict moms and not plaster us with this lame 7 out of 8 example above since clearly Barbara Harris's case of adopting 4 of 8 kids from the same drug addict mom is an extreme minority. Most of these drug-addict babies do not get adopted.

The comparison of Barbara Harris and Hitler portion, someone should have spoken up with a "commentary" that points out the obvious: Hitler forced the extermination/eugenics. Barbara is giving these women a choice. They don't have to accept her money and get the procedure done.

In regards to your comment #1 If you could choose between not being born at all or being born a drug-addict baby and having grim outlooks on life.. It is a ridiculous question because of course many people would choose at the chase of life than not having lived at all. This brings up the other side of the slippery slope. Yes it could start with Barbara Harris offering money for sterilization and then end up with eugenics but it can also go the other way. Not allowing abortion or any form of contraception because the child not being born due to the use of condoms could have turned out a wonderful human being and went to college and did great things for humanity and all that. Think of all the Einsteins we have not allowed to live because of abortion of use of contraceptives.

So if we are ok with using condoms and let potentially healthy humans not come to be born in a healthy non-drug using environment, then certainly we should be ok with offering sterilization to women who use drugs so that they will not have babies that are statistically proven to have worse lives.

Given that statement, how could you in good conscience as the show host of the best radio show on earth allow the comment about Barbara Harris would not have existed "this perfect little scene would not have existed" if her drug addict mom would have gotten a tubal ligation.

Nov. 20 2012 12:56 PM
Robert from Virginia

As an adoptive parent of a child with brain damage due to pre-natal exposure to drugs and another with brain damage due pre-natal exposure to alcohol, I was flabbergasted by Pat Walters' segment "What If There Was No Destiny?"

I urge him to come visit my family for couple of days and discover what life is like for those who were not as lucky as Destiny in terms of escaping the harmful consequences of their birth mothers' behavior. It is not a happy story full of hope.

He should attend a National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome parents meeting to learn about the ripple effect of these children on their immediate families, the school system, and society in general.

But what most troubles me about the segment is that it leaves a listener considering fostering or adopting a child with the false impression that the odds are good that they'll get a wonderful, "normal" child. It provides no glimpse into the pain and suffering involved in raising a drug-affected or alcohol affected child. They deserve to see the high risks as well as the possible rewards.

Nov. 20 2012 10:52 AM
Solon from India

I am 100% with Barbara. The truth can be cold sometimes. Drug addicts that cannot control themselves are given an opportunity to voluntarily control themselves-this is a win win. She is doing what the government cannot do. This program should be expanded to deadbeat druggie dads as well.
The world is overly populated and overburdened already. More disabled orphans of drug addicted mothers will hurt everyone.

Nov. 20 2012 06:39 AM

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