The last post has inspired a lot of comments, some of which focus on the interests of children who are perhaps going to be conceived but do not yet exist. This is a topic that’s come up quite a bit and I honestly cannot recall if I have discussed it separately. It’s interesting (and difficult) to think about.
When people think about having a child (no matter how the plan to conceive) they often think about what raising that child will be like. (At least I hope they do.) They think about the quality of life the child will have. And presumably, if they go ahead and conceive a child, they decide it will be a good (or a good enough?) life.
But the discussion here isn’t about what the people planning for the child think. The discussion here arises when a reader/commenter says that someone else shouldn’t be allowed to conceive a child under whatever condition is at issue because it will be bad for the child. The common context here is that it is problematic to conceive a child where the child will not be raised by its genetic parents, but I take this to be but one case of a more general concern about the well-being of the as-yet-unconceived child.
Now if you think about this on an individualized level I think you end up with some metaphysical argument that rather makes my head hurt. If the people don’t go forward there will be no child. So is the as-yet-unconceived-child better off not being conceived at all? Or being conceived under the proposed circumstances? I just don’t know how to answer that question with regard to a specific and individual child. Asking that now-conceived and existing child if she/he would have been better off not having existed it just too weird. I’m not sure who could really answer that question.
Instead, I find I have to think about this question much more generally. I think the question is really when do we (meaning society) get to decide who should and shouldn’t have kids? When do we (as society or representatives of society) get to say that we don’t care what the people directly involved think, the choice isn’t just theirs, children should not be brought into the world in that circumstance?
Perhaps I haven’t fairly reframed the question. I wonder about this because as I have framed it the danger of posing the question seems clear. Wouldn’t we say that children shouldn’t be born into extreme poverty? Or into households where there is violence? Or where the parents are unlikely to be able to provide the most basic care for them? And if we do–if we are allowed to make that judgment–where does that lead us? To the era of involuntary sterilization? To eugenics? To many places we have been that, in hindsight, look very bad indeed.
It’s not that it isn’t possible to imagine a world where all prospective parents are pre-screened to see if it is likely that a child born into that family will have a full, productive and happy life. You can imagine it. It’s the stuff of dystopian fiction, I think.
Now you could, I think, try to say that this one particular action–creating children who will not be raised by their genetic parents–is so clearly heinous that we can at least rule that out and say it is impermissible. But you’d have to persuade me that it was that clearly a bad situation. And this will bring us right back to the persistent nub of disagreement–is at always bad for kids to be raised by non-genetically related parents, or not to be raised by their genetic parents? There are thousands if not tens of thousands of kids who I think are living proof to the idea that the answer has to be “no”–it isn’t always bad. Sometimes it turns out just fine. And one could as well ask whether those kids who are happy being raised by their non-genetically related parents would have been better off not having been conceived at all.
I’m not sure where this all leaves me, except to think that it is dangerous–as our history has shown us–to assert that society should decide who should and who should not have children or under what conditions children should be born. And I’m not even sure it gets us very far when you come back to the specific issues raised here.