The Ethics of Childbearing
Last week, I turned 28. This minor shift in age from mid-twenties to late-twenties has seemingly given some people a carte blanche to start asking me about my plans for having children. The question is always “when,” not “if,” I will be having children, and I usually find myself answering: “I don’t know.”
It’s not that I don’t like children. I love them; I’m a teacher, and I’ve chosen to work with young people for the rest of my life. Many of my friends have recently had babies and I love their children, too. It’s just that the choice of whether or not to have children is not one that I can take lightly. Babies change everything: relationships, family dynamics, sleep schedules, finances, priorities. Adding a child to my life would alter it completely at this point, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
However, the choice — and what we must consider before making that choice — is not just a personal one. According to Christine Overall at the “New York Times,” it is also an ethical one:
The question whether to have children is of course prudential in part; it’s concerned about what is or is not in one’s own interests. But it is also an ethical question, for it is about whether to bring a person (in some cases more than one person) into existence — and that person cannot, by the very nature of the situation, give consent to being brought into existence. Such a question also profoundly affects the well-being of existing people (the potential parents, siblings if any, and grandparents). And it has effects beyond the family on the broader society, which is inevitably changed by the cumulative impact — on things like education, health care, employment, agriculture, community growth and design, and the availability and distribution of resources — of individual decisions about whether to procreate.
With the population of the world reaching seven billion just last November, it is true that there are other things to be considered when we think about bringing another child into the world. We must take into account the overpopulation of our planet and the depletion of our already scarce natural resources. No longer is it advisable to have as many children as possible to ensure the survival of the species — and the family — as it was centuries ago. Bringing a child into this world now means more to the environment and to society than it did even a few decades ago, and the decision about whether or not to have a child, or another child, is one that should be an informed decision.
On the flip side, though, if we start dictating how many children women can have, we are restricting women’s rights and their onus over their bodies and their lives. Telling women they cannot have children is just as restrictive as telling them they must. When we talk about the ethics of childbearing, this must also be a consideration.
While it is important to think about environmental and societal concerns when we contemplate whether or not to have children, the bottom line is that, if a woman feels it is best for her, her family, and the world to have a child, we cannot restrict that personal choice. However, having conversations about the ethical — as well as personal — implications of childbearing is a good first step toward more people making informed decisions about the trajectory of their lives.
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