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I offered Muhammad Ali a vasectomy

Malcolm Potts, professor of population and family planning | June 4, 2016

I was sorry to learn of Muhammad Ali’s death. In my brief encounter with him I remember a self-confident individual, who could also be thoughtful and sensitive.

I was still living in England in the early 1970s, but I was in Florida at a family planning conference. Among the people I had taught to do vasectomies was a Filipino woman surgeon — an attractive, petite lady in her 30s.  We were walking in the foyer and suddenly there was Muhammad Ali —  6 foot 3 inches and easy to identify.

Impulsively, along with my Filipino friend, I went up to him and said, “Mr Ali, this lady is a surgeon and she does vasectomies. I know you have many children, would you like to have no more? “

He had every reason to be surprised, but after a few moments he said, slightly aggressively, “I have five million dollars. I want many children.”

“What if you had only $50, like many families in the Philippines?”  Ali softened, thought for a moment, and acknowledge that a vasectomy could make sense.

Some of the other people from the conference and Ali’s trainers caught up with us for a few m minutes of pleasant banter.

Another friend of the surgeon took a photo of Muhammad Ali, my friend, and myself. However, when the film was developed (no instant iPhones photos in the 1970s), she had been so excited and focused on her friend so intently, that there was a picture of a smiling Filipino, myself and the powerful torso of a handsome black man, whose head had been amputated in the viewfinder.

So my story is true, but I cannot prove it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Ali.

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