MORAL OBLIGATION: REPRODUCTION
The drive to reproduce influences every person, with hormones chemically stimulating the brain and invoking sexual desire; even the individual cells of your body are driven to continually propagate. How a person responds to this force is relative: genetically damaged individuals, such as rapists and child molesters, are not constrained by the innate social and universal codes; strict variants of Christianity require their leaders to repress sexual desire; Buddhist monks understand the physical cause of desire, and mentally separate themselves from it. Most people fall somewhere in between these extremes: frequently ruled by desire, but having the capability (although not necessarily the willingness) to restrain themselves. Normal levels of desire are usually not harmful, provided that individuals exercise at least a minimal level of common sense; unfortunately, our birth rate demonstrates that too few people actually do this.
Each person has the ability to guarantee that a particular sexual act does not lead to pregnancy, through the use of birth control methods, or abstinence during fertile periods. In reality, there is no such thing as accidental pregnancies; only careless ones: if you choose to engage in sexual intercourse without taking adequate precautions, then you are aware of the risks, and are responsible for your actions. Ignorance is often used as an excuse, and admittedly, sex education is sorely lacking in many cultures and socioeconomic groups. However, bear in mind that even chimpanzees understand the mechanics of reproduction: the dominant male will notice if a new baby is born to a female who was absent during the time when insemination should have occurred, and will eventually kill the suspect infant; he is able to connect a much earlier sexual act with the subsequent pregnancy. Sexual awareness is innate to all living things; and there is no reason why normal humans should be any different.
Once sexually active, the first decision an individual must make is whether they wish to have a child. For many people, the desire to reproduce is an irrepressible need, that they feel is their only path to fulfillment. Raising a child is a major undertaking; and you, as a parent, are partly responsible for what kind of person that child develops into, and subsequently, what effect they have upon the world. Reasoning is a necessary part of the decision to start a family, and a number of factors need to be considered.
Can you afford to have a child? You will be taking on a financial burden that can amount to well over a hundred thousand dollars (in Western society) over the many years you must devote to your offspring. If you are struggling from paycheck to paycheck now, your situation will only deteriorate with an additional financial obligation. This consideration is not directed at the parents, for you are accountable for your own errors in judgment; but toward the child itself: is a child you bring into this world going to suffer due to a life of poverty? Statistically, children raised in poverty do not do well; do you wish to be responsible for their increased risk of low intelligence, poor health, criminal activity, shortened life span, and/or psychological problems? Are you going to require social assistance to raise a child: in other words, are you going to place a financial burden on the rest of society, by putting your desires ahead of the needs of others? Realistically, is your offspring likely to live a healthy, happy, productive life; after being raised in an environment where opportunities are few, and an advanced education is highly unlikely?
Are you afflicted with an hereditary disorder that can be passed to your offspring? There are a great many genetic problems in our species, that persist simply because those flawed individuals continue to reproduce. Billions of dollars are directed toward care and research; when the problems could be eliminated in one generation. If you are at risk to pass a serious disorder on to future generations, and your actions can potentially have a negative influence upon the human race; are you justified in taking that risk? You must keep in mind that you are not only responsible for bringing a child into existence, you are also the cause of all subsequent children produced through the lineage: generation upon generation. The simple fact that you chose to reproduce in spite of the hazards, creates a role model for your children, and increases the likelihood of their doing the same. Therefore, you are not only condemning your child to a life with your disorder, but also the children of the future; as well, you commit the resources of generations yet to be, toward the care and treatment of your lineage.
Did nature intend for you to produce offspring? Modern scientific methods permit certain wealthy people to have children, who otherwise are incapable of doing so. If you are unable to reproduce naturally; is there a genetic reason? Nature promotes the vibrancy of a species by encouraging genetic superiority. Many gregarious creatures live in a system where the majority of males never mate; sex is reserved for the dominant males, which represent the best of the species. When a person is unable to reproduce, one must question whether there are important reasons for this condition, that go beyond individual concerns, and apply to mankind in general.
Are you driven to produce a child for valid reasons? Do instinctive mating desires cause feelings which you cannot resist, or are outside forces pressuring you to have children? Often family, culture, peers, or religion play a part in the decision to procreate. If other people have created a perceived obligation in your mind, then you are likely having a baby for the wrong reasons; and this will reflect in your child.
Will you be good parents? Can you provide a healthy, happy, and secure environment for your offspring? The statistics concerning people raised in broken, or unstable, families are unquestionable; these individuals frequently develop into antisocial, disturbed adults. You must be certain that you and your partner are dedicated to doing what is best for your family. Abused children grow up to be abusers; poor parenting provides a role model for future poor parents; self-serving behaviour creates selfish individuals. Your actions provide the example for your children, as to what parents are: they learn their parenting skills from you. You establish a trend (or continue one) that will be followed by, not only your offspring, but by theirs as well. There are, of course, people who succeed in overcoming the negative influences of childhood, and become psychologically healthy members of society; in spite of poor role models: but this is often the exception, rather than the rule.
Many of the “God of Abraham” religions teach their members to be “fruitful and multiply”; also using this concept to suggest that family planning goes against the wishes of their god. Let’s look at this from the perspective of their belief systems. First of all, this directive from God was made thousands of years ago, when human numbers were insignificant. God has not given recent directions to many of these religions, but it seems apparent that the directive no longer applies. The deity’s orders may have been appropriate to that particular time in history; but you cannot selectively choose certain commands, and decide that they apply forever, while you dismiss the ones that you are uncomfortable with. Do you still follow the directives mandating death for all who do not follow your particular god? Do you kill homosexuals, disrespectful children, those who commit adultery, people who do any form of work on the Sabbath, and witches? Do you marry only within your own family? Of course not: these commandments were not intended to apply forever. To be fruitful and multiply, is only appropriate if you followed each and every order from God: since so many demand death as punishment, a high birth rate would be a necessity.
One leader of a particular Christian religion (which shall remain nameless) stated that Christians must breed at a high rate, in order to stay ahead of the barbarian races. Such a racist statement hardly justifies a comment, except to say that most religions do not think their gods categorize humans by ethnic background. The sad part is that millions of people were told that this was the word of God. I would hope that most individuals can differentiate between religious doctrine, and the prejudices of one man.
A number of religious leaders have told me that it is unnecessary to worry about overpopulation, because either the end of the world is near, or God himself will sort out our problems. Counting on an “Armageddon” has proven to be rather unreliable, considering that, for Christians, it was supposed to happen almost two thousand years ago. As well, the numerous dates since given to sects, by God, have also proven to be false. Let’s just assume that the gods want it to be a surprise, and that overpopulation may lead to many generations of slow death, chaos, and suffering. For those religions that consider suffering to be a positive attribute of their faith: you may suffer to your heart’s content; but you do not have the authority to impose it upon generations as yet unborn. Western belief systems generally maintain that their deities provide mankind with some sort of free will; allowing personal decisions to determine one’s ultimate fate. From this perspective: wouldn’t humanity be demonstrating its worth, by striving toward solutions to the world’s problems; rather than passively awaiting an “ultimate solution”? If you know how to contribute toward making a better life for other people, and yet do nothing; aren’t you committing a “sin of omission”? Do you think that loving your fellow man only applies to certain individuals; or does the concept encompass all of mankind? If you produce too many children, and thereby contribute toward our population problem; and the subsequent suffering of others: are you not then “evil”?
A couple must determine why they want a child: is it to raise one, or to physically produce one? Would your desire be satiated through adoption? There are far more orphaned children in the world, than there are people willing to provide them with a family. It strikes me that this situation demonstrates that people are far more interested in producing children, than actually caring for them. In other words: self-serving desires are overruling compassion and moral obligation. Do you honestly think that your genetic combinations are so much more valuable to humanity, than that of other people; or is the love and devotion put into raising a child, that which produces the best results? For those who insist that their genes may produce the next Einstein or Gandhi; consider that a truly great individual comes along perhaps twice a century, whereas two hundred serial killers appear annually: therefore, statistically, you are ten thousand times more likely to bring a grievous monster into the world, than a noble soul.
The people, whose animal drives give them no alternative but to physically produce offspring, can still do their part to aid the human race; by restricting themselves to one child. Studies have shown that children raised without siblings have superior intellectual development, particularly verbally and in mental maturity; than those who have to compete for attention. It is only logical that directing all of your resources, dedication, and love toward one individual child; is superior to apportioning it out to two or more.
People must learn to consider the long term consequences of their actions. You may believe that there is room for more people in your particular part of the world, at this particular time; and therefore think that you can produce as many offspring as you wish: but what about during their life span; or their children’s? You may say that your contribution to overpopulation is insignificant, compared to the billions of people already inhabiting the planet; but your children will likely reproduce, as will their children. Over the span of human existence, an individual may be responsible for the creation of billions of people: one less child now, is a million fewer in the distant future. You, as an individual, may ultimately be the reason for the demise of your own lineage: because you created too many children during your time on Earth.