Argentina gets its name from the Latin word for silver: argentum. This is because back in the day, a long time ago, the country had so much silver there were, literally, mountains of the stuff – or so legend has it.

Well, long before the advent of antibiotics, silver was used as a sterilising agent. Even in the early 1900’s, for example, people would put a silver dollar into a bottle of milk to prolong its freshness. Apparently silver ions and compounds are making a comeback in the modern fight against fungi, bacteria and viruses.

Of course, the term sterilization has another meaning, and in a way it also relates to the prevention or elimination of any form of life – not killing germs, but preventing the conception of human life. Thus, this sterilization is a method of birth control. A woman gets sterilized by having her Fallopian tubes closed, surgically, or by the removal of her uterus (womb). Men are sterilized by vasectomy or castration.

The Sterilization Act 19981 provides for the right to sterilization. It also regulates the procedure when someone is incapable of making an informed decision – for example, severely mentally-disabled people. The Act criminalises any contravention or non-compliance with any provision of the Act.2 The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Health.

A. Patients

  1. It is a crime to sterilize someone without his consent, if he is over the age of 17 years and is capable of consenting.3

  2. If a person is under the age of 18 years, sterilization may be performed if his life or health is in danger, but it is still a crime to do so unless:4
    • a parent or guardian, or someone who legally can do so, has consented on his behalf;5
    • an independent doctor has consulted with the patient and has provided a written opinion that sterilization is in his best interests.6
  3. If the person concerned is incapable of consenting, due to mental disability, it is an offence to perform the sterilization unless:
    • a parent, spouse, guardian or curator (a court-appointed guardian) has consented; and7
    • a panel consisting of a psychiatrist (or doctor), a psychologist (or social worker) and a nurse have considered all relevant information8 and concur that the procedure may be performed;9
    • the person cannot make his own decision about conception or sterilization;10
    • the person is incapable of developing mentally so as to be able in future to make a decision about it; and11
    • the person is incapable of fulfilling a parental responsibility.12

B. Institution

  1. It is an offence to perform a sterilization at any place other than a facility designated in writing by the MEC for Health.13

  2. The person in charge of the facility commits an offence if he does not keep a record of every sterilization.14

  1. As amended; the latest amendments are by Act 3 of 2005. 

  2. Section 9 

  3. Section 2(2) 

  4. Section 2(3)(a) 

  5. Section 2(3)(c)(i) 

  6. Section 2(3)(c)(ii) 

  7. Section 3(1)(a) 

  8. Section 3(1)(b) of the Act stipulates 8 different criteria which, at least, must be considered. 

  9. Section 3(1)(b) 

  10. Section 3(1)(c)(i) 

  11. Section 3(1)(c)(ii) 

  12. Section 3(1)(c)(iii) 

  13. Section 5 

  14. Section 6