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Hastings Center Report

Ethics of a Mandatory Waiting Period for Female Sterilization

Abstract: Due to a history of coerced sterilization, a federal Medicaid sterilization policy mandates that a specific consent form be signed by a patient at least thirty days prior to when the patient undergoes sterilization. However, in contemporary obstetrical practice, the Medicaid sterilization policy serves as a policy-level barrier to autonomously desired care. We review the clinical and ethical implications of the current Medicaid sterilization policy. After discussing the utility and impact of waiting periods for other surgical procedures, we explore the psychology of time required for decision-making and consider scientific understanding of regret. We argue that the current Medicaid sterilization waiting period is clinically and ethically unjustifiable and that the policy ought to be revised in light of the goals, preferences, and concerns of the people most affected by it. While the need for continued protection against coercion remains, the current mandated waiting period does little to enforce the high-quality shared decision-making that is desired for sterilization counseling.

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