18 December 2008

Overpopulation and ethics

This post is inspired by a post and attendant comments by Martin Rundkvist at Sb
He posited:
  • It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children. (Adoption of orphans, on the other hand, is highly commendable.)

  • It is unethical to limit the availability of contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation, vasectomy and adoption.

  • It is unethical to use public money to support infertility treatments. Let those unfortunate enough to need such treatment pay their own way or adopt. And let's put the money into subsidising contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation, vasectomy and adoption instead.
In a comment, one person suggested that a mandatory reversible sterilization be implemented, until such time as the individual proved they were capable of responsibly rearing offspring. They were promptly jumped on for proposing eugenics, which was not the suggestion at all, as you can see. It was not a proposal to limit breeding to certain genetic material, only that people be prepared for the responsibility - something which anyone can accomplish.

I agree that having children is something that should require training. If we want to limit our population and improve our fitness as a species, the we need to collectively have fewer children, and raise them responsibly. I have seen too many mothers who, due to youth, poverty, neglect or ignorance have permanently sabotaged their children. Requiring people to be responsible when engaging in the most important job a species has is not eugenics. One might as well argue that requiring a driver's license or voting age is a violation of rights. We have these rules in place because we collectively saw that regulating certain activities benefits everyone. I would suggest that raising a child is a much more important activity than driving a car, drinking at a bar, voting, or even fighting for your country. Yet out of all these activities, raising a child is the only one for which no age or skill baseline is required. I am only suggesting that, at least, the childbearing age should not be lower than the drinking or voting age, and that potential parents be well informed of the needs of a child and the obligations they will have to the child, as well as certain basic skills pertaining to childbearing. This is not eugenics, this is not elitism, this is not based on income, disability, race, religion, gender, or level of education. It is simply beneficial to everyone, so I suspect that it will be hotly contested. If someone wants children, these circumstances will only ensure that they are prepared for them.

Another population growth solution is the one child per couple policy has been in effect and effectually enforced in China for quite some time now. It works because people are aware of the necessity for it. The problem that policy would have in North America are the large numbers of people who feel that clinging to their out-dated mythology is more important then the well-being of our species and ecosystem. I'd almost rather have eugenics than that type of 'ethics'.

Finally, regarding abortion, this comment was made:
This argument, more generally, is, "it is unethical to tax person X to pay for policy Q, but ethical to tax person X to pay for policy Z." It ignores the question of whether it is ethical to force people to pay for policies they disagree with. If it is ethical to force Christians to subsidize abortions, do they not have a claim that it is ethical to force me to subsidize printing of Bibles?

The first difference would be that legalized abortion benefits the population as a whole, even if the Christians refuse to admit it. Printing religious texts does not benefit the population as a whole (or anyone, IMHO).
The second point is that I pay taxes for things I don't use/agree with all the time, because they are a benefit to the population as a whole. I support the military, even though I am a pacifist. I pay for public education, even though I have no children. I pay for health care, even though I am healthy and don't need it myself. I also pay for abortions for people who need them, and free contraceptives, sex education, and I am mightily insulted that the religious institutions which oppose education and reduced population growth are tax-exempt. Religious views or programs should never be paid for by public money. Ever. Especially when they run counter to the good of the society as a whole.

In conclusion, I would venture to say that if your religion is advocating something that is obviously not (or no longer) beneficial to our species or society, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your beliefs. If your 'ethics' conflict with what is beneficial to our species as a whole, those should be re-evaluated too.


  1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  2. The first step is to make sure that everyone understands the following three facts of nature.

    1) A birth rate above two kills children. If the birth rate is three, then one in three will be condemned to death.

    2) In the absence of government regulations, you must limit your self to two children, and limit your parents to four grandchildren, and your grandparents to eight great grandchildren. This algorithm stops the growth right now.

    3) Every country and the planet are overpopulated now because we are consuming resources that are essential to provide for the current numbers of people faster than those resources renew. In other words, we have no ability to feed 7 billion without burning oil, and oil will run out.

    These three must be common knowledge or we will get nowhere with respect to controlling population growth on the birth side instead of having nature control it for us on the death side.

    John Taves
    See http://stopattwo.org


Have something to say about this? Say it!