Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Immorality of Having Children

I received two emails this morning that really got me going. The first was from Planned Parenthood letting me know that it is National Condom Week. The second was from Alternet and contained a posting by Vanessa Richmond called Is Breeding a Sin?.

Nadya Suleman has received a shitstorm of criticism for using fertility treatments to have 14 children with no visible means of financial support. Richmond's article infers that it is wrong to criticize Nadya and applaud Brangelina for having a similar-sized litter. For Richmond, the only difference between the two cases is the amount of money they have.

While I see her point, nobody can possibly believe that the ability to support your children shouldn't be a factor in whether or not you have them. More importantly, not only is there a very big difference between 14 children and 6, much of the Brangelina crew is adopted. And that makes a huge difference.

Any public discussions about breeding in our country always revolve around the abortion controversy. The discussions never focus on the amount of children who are neglected, abused, and lost in the system. In fact, a common argument from anti-choice people is that all these unwanted children will be adopted into loving homes. Even John McCain said it in one of the presidential debates.

At least McCain had an adopted child when he said it, which is more than I can say for most anti-choice people I've encountered. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there were nearly half a million kids in foster care as of September 30, 2007. And, according to a study by Mary I. Benedict and Susan Zuravin, kids who live in group homes are 10 times more likely to be physically abused and 28 times more likely to be sexually abused than kids in the general population.

But at least those kids have a roof over their heads and food on the table. According to World Vision, every day "nearly 25,000 children under age 5 will die from preventable or treatable causes". Basic nutrition, re-hydration therapy, immunizations, and antibiotics could save most of them.

If there was a starving baby on the threshold of your house, would you step over it on your way inside to go get knocked up? If you had been thinking about having a baby and that starving child showed up on your doorstep, would you take that baby in? If you could only afford one child, would you forgo having "your own" in order to take care of that baby?

I think a decent person would take that child in, even if it meant not having a biological child. And I think people who have children make that choice every time they bring a child into the world. They are choosing to give their love, and their resources, to a new creation rather than giving them to people already on this earth who desperately need it.

What is the only reason people can possibly offer as to why they insist on bringing more people into the world, a world where so many here are not being taken care of? Biology. As someone who was adopted, I find that repugnant. Implied is that my parents (and the parents of millions of adopted children) loved their children less. It's insulting.

Given the amount of children suffering and dying in the world, having children should be controversial. People who selfishly bring children into the world without thought to whether or not they can provide for them, nurture them, and raise them to be productive members of society are immoral. People who encourage people to have children they are not prepared to take care of (anti-choice activists and the pope included) are immoral. People who want only "their own" child and close their eyes to the suffering of other children are immoral.

It's time we started acknowledging that we all have a stake in the health and well-being of others. A child neglected or abused today becomes the mess that society has to deal with tomorrow. This is not a personal issue only. It is a social issue.

So the next time someone you know gets pregnant, don't just provide a knee-jerk congratulations. The next time some anti-choice person goes marching around with pictures of a fetus, make them stare at a photo of a starving child for a while. The next time some religious zealot says birth control is evil, read this story about a man who beat his toddler to death on the side of a road and tell me that man shouldn't have used birth control.

So yes. Sometimes breeding is a sin.

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Crackgerbal said...

great post. I really like your point of view on this issue. Glad to hear the side from an adopted person's perspective.

Anonymous said...

The only answer is permits to have kids.

What's your thoughts on that idea :)

Daemon said...

I feel your passion on the topic, but I feel a pretty profound need to procreate, and a pretty profound connection with my biological children. I've certainly considered adopting a child (or children) and would have no problem with treating an adopted child as my own.

However... one of the best salves for my ever-growing sense of my mortality comes from the feeling of passing both my genes and my teaching on to another generation. It's not an indictment or judgement of anyone else, but I feel the power of this bond quite profoundly, and it's one of the only solid comforts you can have when you feel the first real breaths of age and the imminence of your passing cold against the nape of your metaphorical neck.

Also, it's pretty wonderful to feel the spiritual and physical kinship of recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses in your children as they grow.... in their mental makeup, their humor, their temper, their addictive personalities that need better training than I received.... I could go on but I won't. :)

Nice article!

Melanie said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I can appreciate the idea of passing on wisdom to the next generation. One of my main points is that biology is not the determining factor in being able to do that. You can pass wisdom on to individual human beings who you didn't actually give birth to. You can pass wisdom on to millions through books or art.

I think I may need to write a whole post on the mortality issue. For now I will just say that I don't feel a need for permanence.

Finally, regarding the idea of permits for children: When I hear about some of the more egregious cases of child abuse, I entertain that type of idea for a second. However, I don't trust anyone to make decisions about who should and should not have children. There is too much danger of eugenics and all sorts of horrible things slipping in.

I do; however, believe that parents should be held responsible for their children's actions. I think the parents of those Columbine shooters should be languishing in prison right now. A parent’s responsibility is to their children and to society.

Most importantly, I just want there to be a public discussion about having children. I don't want it to be automatic. I don't want to hear people saying "everyone should have children." I want people to take it seriously and to consider the wider implications of their choices.

Renee said...

I do agree that there is a certain degree of narcissism in privileging your own biological child versus an adopted child. I will say that for a working class family adoption is so expensive as to exclude many of them. The legal fees alone can push a poor family right out of consideration. I wanted to adopt a little girl between my boys and the price absolutely astounded me. I have no doubt that we would be able to provide a good stable home but the up front financial cost was ridiculous.

In my post when I said if we truly cared about children the amount of reproduction would not be an issue I truly meant that. We give a lot of lipsevice to life and we under educate them and let them go hungry and in some countries without adequate medical care. As a community it should be our responsibility to ensure that children have everything they need to grow into respectful, contributing members of society. I know that we live in the world as it is and not as it should be and therefore a person really needs to think about their capabilities before either adopting or reproducing biologically. I cannot shame a woman like Suleman however because I believe her children symbolize who little we value life.

Melanie said...

I think one of the obstacles to people truly caring about the children in this world is precisely the focus on biology. They just don't see people who aren't biologically related to them as being their responsibility or as being people they could love in the same way.

I don't think we should shame Suleman, or anyone else whose shoes we haven't walked in, but I do think we have the right and responsibility to have public discussions about the morality of people's choices.

I'm not familiar with the cost of adoption in Canada. I do know that the costs of adoption in Guatemala is huge. So huge that the amount of money given to attorneys could probably bring the mother out of poverty and prevent her from having to give her kid up. And that is criminal.

But the cost of in vitro is also enormous. Wouldn't that money be better spent helping kids that are already on this earth?

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