A family consisting of two adults and one child walk stairs with their backs to the camera.

Lessons from One Child Nation for Health Policy

By Katherine Drabiak

The acclaimed One Child Nation, streaming on Amazon Prime, provides a haunting look at the reasoning, implementation, and consequences behind China’s (now revised) One Child Policy. Director Nanfu Wang expertly weaves together interviews from population health officials, medical professionals, and family members to describe how government policy strictly enforced population control measures through propaganda, forced sterilization, abortion, steep fines, and infanticide.

At first blush, it seems convenient to contextualize these gross violations of human rights as a product of a vastly different system of law and government than the U.S., but this is an oversimplification. Like the U.S., China also has a Constitution that enshrines central principles, such as deriving authority by the power of the people, equality under the law, preservation of human rights, freedom of the human person, freedom of speech and press, and certain freedoms of family life.  Unlike the U.S., a co-existing provision grants broad power to the government to promote responsible family planning.  Among key differences, One Child Nation illustrates the danger of interpreting rights through a prism that elevates social goals, public order, and government defined community interests above individual rights.

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