Dave’s story: Vasectomy experience from 1969

To begin at the beginning – as far as I am concerned – In 58/59 there were a series of letters in the Observer (London Sunday heavyweight) at a time when even the legality of the procedure was in doubt! (This is probably the origin of the double signature requirement in the UK; to get the surgeon off any possible hook).

It is difficult to comprehend the secretive society that there was then and the screams of anguish the letters created – this was the first I had heard of the subject (and I was at university!) though I know that tubal ligation was available in the middle 40s – on medical need

I married in late 59! Still married, the same wife! and we had 3 kids in swift succession. I asked for a vasectomy and my wife was offered a tubal! So she went on the pill.

We then moved from rural Worcestershire to London and in 69 I asked again and there were no problems. – The fix was made/declared specifically legal in the middle 60s – one specific declaration during the debate in parliament called it ‘A ram’s charter’.

Neither of us has any regrets whatsoever, given my time again I would have had it even earlier- I might even be a Greerite – calling for postpubertal sample taking and vasectomy to be at least on offer (not compulsory)

If I say I have a grandson of nearly 18 you can do the arithmetic (those 2 are still married as well).

Update of 6th February 2002 – “Considerations after 30 years”

We neither of us have had any regrets whatsoever except, perhaps, I might well have had it done earlier; though my wife then had some trepidation (soon dispelled).

The general feeling in the late 1960s early 1970s was that it was something you might read about but certainly never mention in conversation, polite or otherwise. I had asked our doctor, in Worcestershire, (the country) about a vasectomy; she said nothing but later offered my wife a tubal instead! 1971, in London there was no problem. I saw my (Polish, female) doctor who nodded and gave me a referral; I arranged an appointment with the consultant who counted the vas deferens, said there would be no problem, and asked my wife to sign the consent form as well as me. Two or three weeks later, on a Tuesday afternoon, the deed was done in his office, just off Harley St. in central London. He had a single, male, assistant; the topic of conversation was how to get the remote control on his car to operate the gates on his driveway. The fee, I seem to recollect, was about £25. I was given 2 covered plastic collection dishes and told to deliver samples at 1 month and at 2 months; with the injunction that they should not be more than 3 hours old. These were duly delivered to the path. lab at a local hospital and I got the all-clear, by post, about a week after the second sample.

I never had, nor was offered, either valium (or equivalent) or an ice pack (or frozen peas, etc.); Just instructed to wear tight underpants till the stitches dissolved and told to come back if there was any sign of infection. There was never any mention of any of the numerous complications which might arise.

I remember spectacular bruising and swelling with aching for a couple of days, I was at work the next day (desk-ish job) at 8:30 having traveled into central London on the bus and underground and had to keep the kids and cat at bay for a week or so. After 3 or 4 days, the bruising was far more spectacular than painful; Herself demanded to see the damage and seemed duly impressed; we managed to lay off each other for about a week, it was tender to begin but after a fortnight everything was back in good working order, except for the most ferocious itching.

2002 and current attitudes

It is now a quite reasonable thing to do, indeed it is verging on the irresponsible not to be sterilized in some walks of life.

My own views have changed over the years;

I was raised at a time and place where death in the family was the norm, I had two elder brothers who only lived a few days or hours and I very nearly died of blood poisoning at the age of 9; then children, and lots of them, were the norm: War, death, and pestilence would all take their toll. Vasectomy and tubal ligation were desperate measures indeed, only to be attempted if lives were at risk and, probably, technically illegal. Certainly, sterility was one undisputed ground for divorce. From this, you will realize that I had to convert myself first of all.

The turning point was a conversation I had with my father, in as much as one had a conversation with one’s father in those days (c. 1958), in which he held that the victim of rape should be responsible for the care and upbringing of any outcome. I asked him to justify this on religious or socialist grounds – he nearly had a stroke!.

Perforce the result of this, and similar social attitudes, was liberation from an authoritarian upbringing to a (more enlightened?) liberal attitude to things in general and matters sexual in particular.

In ’98 I met a young (25?) childfree couple who were celebrating his ‘clear’ after she had arranged a vasectomy for him as a Christmas present! This was an eye-opener. They even spoke about it in a talk at the table.

After more reading, pondering, and talking I have reached the (radical?) position where I cannot raise any reasonable objection to any informed person, male or female, of legal age, with or without children/partner/spouse who wishes to be sterilized.

Those who object, and many do, ‘for the best of reasons’ should reflect on the ills done to humanity at large as a result of those selfsame reasons.

On possible complications

You who read this will undoubtedly die. When, where, and of what is uncertain. The next knock on the door may reveal a psychopath, the car might crash at 7:33 pm next Tuesday week, you may even have died of apoplexy by now, you might break your neck falling downstairs, most murders are committed by friends or family members.

With a vivid imagination you can fill your world with such horrors as you can’t even dream of.

There are such poor people who take a morbid delight in pointing out, with all the lurid detail and misrepresentation of half-understood sentences they have read, the dangers of whatever takes their fancy. Such people are generally immune to rational discourse but not certifiable in any legal sense. They are merely to be noted and ignored.

My main point here is to accept that there are dangers; here in the UK some 3500 people are killed on the roads every year and there is little unease, just a general acceptance that the benefits outweigh the costs. There are at least 10 times as many seriously injured, there is little unease, just a general acceptance that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Nobody can persuade me that any elective medical procedure could create anywhere near as much havoc and stay hidden and even supposing there were problems of a hundredth of that scale what is the logical, excuse for ignoring the far greater carnage of the roads.

For those of you in the US just consider that, in the last century, more citizens died in domestic handgun incidents than military personnel died in the war.

There are complications, those who go looking for them will find them, for the individual they will be distressing or worse, but, in the general scheme of things, the rate of complication is at least as acceptable as motor accident death or injury.

For those of you who wish to pursue this line of thought read some good books on statistics.

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. First published by Victor Gollancz 1954 – copyright Darrell Huff &Irving Geis 1954 (and never forget about the self-selecting sample)

Submitted by Dave

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