The Ethics of Procreation and Parenthood in Affluent Nations

  • Author / Creator
    Andes, Peter
  • There are many things that we might feel obligated to justify to other people, but having a child is not usually one of them. It is difficult to imagine a decision more personal, or more apparently within one’s rights to make. Yet in recent decades a number of thinkers have raised questions and doubts about whether procreation and the obligations of parenthood are as morally uncomplicated and unquestionable as might be presumed. In this project, I specifically focus on how the challenges raised to procreation and parenthood apply to morally reflective and financially secure individuals living in affluent nations. These challenges can be roughly broken down into two broad categories. The first category involves concerns about how a person is impacted by being brought into existence. Focusing on this side of things means wondering whether the chance that a person brought into existence will experience bad things in her life might be a reason that counts against bringing her into existence. It also might mean worrying about how we can bring people into existence, and so expose them to harms, without their consent. We can call these sorts of concerns “child-centered concerns”. They involve how an individual who is brought into existence might be wronged as a result of coming into existence. The second category involves concerns which focus on how other people are impacted when someone is brought into existence. Focusing on this side of things means wondering whether other people might be made worse off by bringing someone into existence, directly or indirectly. We might worry that having more children in affluent nations with high emitting lifestyles will increase the burden we place on our planet’s ecosystem. We might also worry about the amount of money it takes to raise a child in the developed world, money which might have been donated to reliable aid agencies with considerably greater impact, perhaps saving the lives of many children. I shall call these “third party concerns”. Both sorts of concerns play a role in developing an approach to understanding the ethical issues surrounding procreation. I find these challenges alarming and I believe they are sufficiently weighty to deserve consideration by any morally reflective and financially secure person, particularly those who plan to procreate and parent themselves and live in affluent nations. When and how can we say that procreation is morally permissible on the part of morally reflective and financially secure citizens of affluent nations when considering the arguments arrayed against it? My project seeks to offer an answer to this question. I investigate the different arguments against procreation. I argue that their shared conclusion—that having children in a world like our own is either always wrong or at least morally problematic—should be rejected. In my response to these arguments, I aim to find a way between those who would say that procreation is always morally problematic or even morally impermissible and those who would embrace the common assumption that bringing new life into being is a practice to be accepted uncritically. I defend a view where procreation is permissible provided that certain conditions are met. First, that there is a reasonable expectation that the child will have a life that contains overall more benefits than harms. This condition also involves the understanding that there are strong reasons to benefit existing people, meaning that benefits must be pursued for the child, and costs avoided, once existing. Second, that the child will be prepared by parents with character education to provide her with resources for resilience which better enable her to face and endure the tragedies of life. Their provision of these is what in my view distinguishes “typical” procreation from cases of wrongful life. And, third, that (at most) children be prepared to be able to work toward leaving the world a better place than it would be had their parents not had them, a condition aimed at answering third party concerns driven by environmental destruction and global poverty.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.