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Opinion: Think Before You Breed

June 18, 2012 • Family Planning, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Earl Babbie for sending the following essay my way. Printed in the online Opinion section of the NY Times, the thoughts are those of Christine Overall, a professor of philosophy and University Research Chair at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. She is the author of “Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate.” The comments at the NY Times site (below the article) are also of unusually good quality. See: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/think-before-you-breed/

June 17, 2012

Think Before You Breed

By CHRISTINE OVERALL

As a young woman in my 20s I pondered whether or not to have children. Is there a way, I wondered, to decide thoughtfully rather than carelessly about this most momentous of human choices?

It’s a tough decision because you can’t know ahead of time what sort of child you will have or what it will be like to be a parent. You can’t understand what is good or what is hard about the process of creating and rearing until after you have the child. And the choice to have a child is a decision to change your life forever. It’s irreversible, and therefore, compared to reversible life choices about education, work, geographical location or romance, it has much greater ethical importance.

Choosing whether or not to procreate may not seem like the sort of decision that is deserving or even capable of analysis. The Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence wrote, “I don’t really feel I have to analyze my own motives in wanting children. For my own reassurance? For fun? For ego-satisfaction? No matter. It’s like (to me) asking why you want to write. Who cares? You have to, and that’s that.”

In fact, people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.

Nonetheless, I think Laurence’s “Who cares?” attitude is mistaken.

We are fortunate that procreation is more and more a matter of choice. Not always, of course – not everyone has access to effective contraception and accessible abortion, and some women are subjected to enforced pregnancy. But the growing availability of reproductive choice makes it clear that procreation cannot be merely an expression of personal taste.

To read the full article, please click here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/think-before-you-breed/


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