December 26, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
On the continuing subject of the prospect of safe, effective and affordable male contraceptives, comes this article (The Daily Beast, 9/9/14). It’s about the latest news out of the Parsemus Foundation’s advancements toward the making and marketing of Vasalgel, the U.S. version of RISUG.
As readers may recall, RISUG has been used experimentally in India for over 10 years now. The acronym refers to a procedure called Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance. That means a non-hormonal polymer is injected into the vas deferens to coat the passage way from the testes to the outside world. The polymer creates a charge differential in sperm cells rendering them incapable of fertilizing an egg.
The procedure has so far proved 100% effective in preventing conception and a single injection is good for about 10 years. It’s also 100% reversible with another counteractive injection. So a man can be absolutely certain that sexual intercourse will not produce a child, but, should he and his partner so desire, the procedure can be reversed at any time and he can become fertile again.
And of course, it’s non-hormonal, so the only side-effects consist of a bit of post-op pain that lasts a day or two.
In short, it’s not a bad deal for men who aren’t ready to become fathers. The only downside is that the cost of the procedure is likely to run between $500 and $1,000. That may be daunting to a lot of young men, but of course it’s a fraction of what it costs to support a child. My personal guess is that Vasalgel won’t catch on in a big way because of the initial cost factor. A lot of men will avail themselves of it, but most will not. Such is my prediction. (Full disclosure: I also predicted a Denver Broncos win in last year’s Super Bowl.)
Now, the linked-to article is by Samantha Allen and, this being the Daily Beast, contains a few real howlers. Most remarkably, Allen has no idea of how Vasalgel works. Yes, I know. You’d think knowing how Vasalgel functions would be pretty much Job 1 for anyone writing about, well, Vasalgel. But no. Four separate times in her article Allen claims the polymer injections plugs up the vas deferens preventing sperm from getting through. Someone might want to encourage Allen to find out what she’s writing about before she actually writes about it. As an aside, she might want to educate herself on the difference between sperm and semen.
And while we’re on the subject of Allen’s deficiencies, we may as well deal with this:
[G]iven the fact that modern birth control has deep roots in Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s belief in eugenics, the benefits of male birth control for lower-income families in particular should not be overemphasized.
It’s nice that Allen both knows about and mentions Sanger’s enthusiasm for limiting the reproductive capabilities of those she considered less worthy than the rest of us. Unfortunately for Sanger, those beliefs took on a bit of a bad odor around the time of World War II when German National Socialism put them into rather dramatic practice for all to see. But it’s interesting to notice that the eugenics aspect of contraception only makes its way into Allen’s consciousness when it’s a safe and effective male contraceptive that’s under discussion.
After all, every word she writes applies equally well to the contraceptive pill for women as it does to Vasalgel. In fact it’s more applicable because the pill is cheaper in the short run than is Vasalgel. As such, the poor are more likely to use the pill than they are Vasalgel. So why the sudden concern about contraceptives being used by the poor to limit the number of children they have?
Indeed, why raise the issue at all? One of the main impediments to poor people’s ability to drag themselves out of poverty is children, so any concern for the welfare of the poor must include their ability to access safe and effective contraception. And we must further allow those people to make their own decisions about reproduction. But all of a sudden, Allen wants us to believe that Vasalgel, but not any of the plethora of female contraceptive choices, is uniquely apt to promote eugenics.
Nonsense. We want the poor, just like everyone else, to be able to control their own fertility to the greatest extend possible so that every child born is wanted and its parents are ready and able to support it.
I strongly suspect Allen’s faux concern comes from another place altogether. She, like so many others, isn’t comfortable with men having a safe, effective and confidential method of contraception. As things stand, men have two — condoms and vasectomies. Vasectomies are generally undergone by men who’ve already had children and don’t want more, not by young men who haven’t yet decided about whether they want to become fathers. That’s because they’re largely irreversible, and young men don’t want to make that drastic decision at such a young age.
The other male contraceptive, condoms, are too unreliable. But perhaps more importantly, they can’t be used in secret. Men need the confidentiality that a procedure like Vasalgel can provide. Women of course have had ready access to confidential contraception for many decades now and, simply as a matter of equality, men should have the same. Otherwise, the decision to or not to use contraception ends up entirely in the woman’s hands.
If a woman tells her male partner that she’s “on the pill,” and there’s no threat of a sexually transmitted disease, the man will be hard pressed to justify his use of a condom. Doing so communicates one of three things, (1) “I don’t believe you’re on the pill,” (2) “I in fact do have an STD,” or (3) “I think you have an STD.” No man wants to send any of those messages, particularly just before sexual intimacy.
Vasalgel would allow him to have sex without a condom, secure in the knowledge that, whether his partner remembered her pill or not, he (and she) will be safe.
My take on Allen’s quixotic foray into the realm of eugenics is that it’s more about her discomfort with men’s ability to control their own fertility than about the poor being able to produce offspring. To too great an extent, up to now, male fertility has been in women’s hands. It’s time for that to change and Vasalgel looks like it may be the first step in that laudable direction.
What Allen gets right is the obvious fact that the pill and other hormonal contraceptive methods for women involve significant physical side effects. So do IUDs, spermicidal sponges and the like, albeit to a lesser degree. What Vasalgel offers women, then, is a route out of the contraceptive business altogether. Face it, any woman who knows her male partner has had the procedure done, can consider herself free of the obligation, expense and biochemical alteration of contraception. So two partners could easily split the cost of a single procedure and throw those pills away, a considerably freeing prospect for women.
That of course suggests an issue that comes to us from the Dark Side of the contraceptive discussion. That issue is what we may as well call maternity fraud.
If a man tells his partner he’s had the injection of Vasalgel, she relies on his statement and uses no contraceptive method herself, he’s not telling the truth (or he’s had the procedure reversed) and she becomes pregnant by him, what are the rights and duties of each? Is she then trapped into maternity that she sought to avoid? Will she be required to raise the child? Will he get custody of the child and she be required to pay child support? Will she have a civil cause of action against him for fraud?
In the case of paternity fraud, those questions exist today and all, without exception, are answered by the legal system to the detriment of the man. As things stand now, a woman can lie about using the pill and yes, her male partner is trapped into paternity, will likely have little say about who raises it, will almost certainly not get custody of it, but will absolutely have to pay to support it. And in only six states will he have the right to sue her for damages occasioned by her fraud.
So what will we do when the reverse is true? My guess is that we will at last discover that, when one person lies to the other about contraception, an egregious wrong has been committed. I won’t be surprised to see the legal system do an abrupt about-face on all of those questions I listed above, and whether that change in the law will apply to both sexes or just one will be the question of the century.
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