Why Have Children?

Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate

Christine Overall
Series: Basic Bioethics
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Why Have Children?
    Book Description:

    In contemporary Western society, people are more often called upon to justify the choice not to have children than they are to supply reasons for having them. In this book, Christine Overall maintains that the burden of proof should be reversed: that the choice to have children calls for more careful justification and reasoning than the choice not to. Arguing that the choice to have children is not just a prudential or pragmatic decision but one with ethical repercussions, Overall offers a wide-ranging exploration of how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life. Writing from a feminist perspective, she also acknowledges the inevitably gendered nature of the decision; the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women than it has for men.After considering a series of ethical approaches to procreation, and finding them inadequate or incomplete, Overall offers instead a novel argument. Exploring the nature of the biological parent-child relationship -- which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral -- she argues that the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30129-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Arthur Caplan, Joseph J. Fins, Rosamond Rhodes, Nadia N. Sawicki and Jan Helge Solbakk

    Glenn McGee and I developed the Basic Bioethics series and collaborated as series coeditors from 1998 to 2008. In fall 2008 and spring 2009, the series was reconstituted, with a new editorial board and under my sole editorship. I am pleased to present the thirtieth book in the series.

    The Basic Bioethics series makes innovative works in bioethics available to a broad audience and introduces seminal scholarly manuscripts, state-of-the-art reference works, and textbooks. Topics engaged include the philosophy of medicine, advancing genetics and biotechnology, end-of-life care, health and social policy, and the empirical study of biomedical life. Interdisciplinary work is...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    I suspect that most people eventually ask themselves the question “Why have children?” at least once or twice during their lives.

    Back when I was much younger than I am now, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to have children or not. I eventually did choose to have two children, whom I adore. I am fortunate and blessed to have them. Along the way, I learned a few things about the decision whether to have children.

    First, if you wait to have children until you are absolutely sure that it is the right decision, then you may wait...

  6. 2 Reproductive Freedom, Autonomy, and Reproductive Rights
    (pp. 19-34)

    There are three main reasons for starting this exploration of the ethics of procreation with an examination of rights. First, moral rights are fundamental to much ethical debate, and reproductive rights have typically been emphasized in traditional discussions of procreative issues such as abortion and IVF. But as the quotation from Sarah Hannan and Richard Vernon suggests, reproductive rights are more complex than is often recognized. It is therefore necessary to delineate the scope and limits of reproductive rights; this discussion provides background for the rest of the book. Second, some people might assume that deciding to have a child...

  7. 3 When Prospective Parents Disagree
    (pp. 35-56)

    What is the morally justified path when the two individuals in a couple disagree about whether to continue their pregnancy or not?¹ Various approaches have been proposed to resolve such disagreements. Some aspects of these disagreements have been explored in the recent work of several American philosophers, and I try to make sense of what I think are patterns in their work. Here I am not discussing the question ofwhetherto conceive a child or not, but rather the question of forming a morally justifiable resolution when two people disagree, particularly in the context of a pregnancy that is...

  8. 4 Deontological Reasons for Having Children
    (pp. 57-70)

    Whenever human beings decide to reproduce, the decision has at least two foundational and morally relevant features. First, children themselves do not choose to come into existence; by the very nature of procreation, their consent is not possible. Hence, in cases where pregnancy is the result of choice, the decision that a new human being will come into existence is inevitably made for them by others. Second, no child can be brought into existence for its own sake. What I mean is that there is nopreviously existingentity that is given material human existence via reproduction.

    Some people believe...

  9. 5 Consequentialist Reasons for Having Children
    (pp. 71-94)

    If the criterion for the moral evaluation of our behavior is the consequences it produces, then we should act in a way that will produce good and avoid causing harm. It then appears that one is justified in having a child when the positive consequences of bringing the child into existence outweigh the negative consequences of doing so. This view, in its most minimal form, is the consequentialist justification for procreation. In this chapter, I examine various consequentialist arguments for procreation and show that they do not provide an adequate foundation for procreative choices. Indeed, in some cases, such arguments...

  10. 6 Not “Better Never to Have Been”
    (pp. 95-116)

    In chapter 5, I noted in the discussion of savior siblings the obvious fact that children do not come into existence by choice. Indeed, “I didn’t ask to be born!” is a reproach some children bring against their parents. Given that by the very nature of their situation it is impossible for children to consent to coming into existence, it is essential to ask whether human beings are benefited or harmed or neither by coming into existence. Answering that question is an important step in figuring out whether, when, and why procreation is morally justified or unjustified.

    Such a question...

  11. 7 An Obligation Not to Procreate?
    (pp. 117-148)

    If David Benatar were correct that for every single person it is better never to come into existence, then there would be a strong reason for believing that we always have an obligation not to procreate. I have shown that Benatar’s theory does not stand up against a variety of criticisms. Nonetheless, other important moral reasons may count against having children. In investigating these reasons, I consider whether and when a case can be made that there is an obligation not to have children.

    James Lenman writes, “We might well believe that in every generation very many people will lead...

  12. 8 Illness, Impairment, and the Procreation Decision
    (pp. 149-172)

    In chapter 7, I argued that there is no obligation to achieve procreative beneficence in Savulescu’s sense of the term, largely because of its costs to women. But that is not to say there is no responsibility at all to consider the future child’s health. It ought to be obvious and not in need of argument that the aim in procreating should not be merely to produce a child whose life is minimally tolerable. One should aim much higher, and I think the vast majority of women and men do. In this chapter, I consider the moral implications of illness...

  13. 9 Overpopulation and Extinction
    (pp. 173-202)

    The discussion in previous chapters has demonstrated and defended several ethical principles for procreative choices. First, it is essential to recognize and respect the reproductive rights described in chapter 2. Human beings have a rightnotto reproduce; hence, there is no general obligation to procreate. Human beings also have a right to reproduce in the negative or liberty sense—that is, a right not to be interfered with in their procreative behavior and a limited right to reproduce in the positive or welfare sense. Second, as the discussion in chapter 3 demonstrated, we must keep in mind the gendered...

  14. 10 Procreation, Values, and Identity
    (pp. 203-220)

    In this book, I have presented no general formula for handling the ethics of choosing to have children; there cannot be one. In cases of ethical ambiguity, there are often no obvious, easy, mechanical answers. We can only attempt to figure out which purported solutions don’t work, and we can assess the weight of the evidence on different sides. To suppose ethics is or can be much more than this is to ask for what we cannot have.

    When we are trying to decide what is right and wrong, what we have a responsibility to do, and what we ought...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 221-236)
  16. References
    (pp. 237-246)
  17. Basic Bioethics
    (pp. 247-248)
  18. Index
    (pp. 249-255)