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Procreation and Responsibility

with 6 comments

The sticking point in most discussions of antinatalism that I’ve witnessed has been whether it is always a harm to bring a child into existence. Most people admit that it is sometimes a harm to bring a child into existence, at least once they are educated past the identity problem. Not so for so-called “religious conservatives,” who generally refuse to engage in public reason at all, and use their supernatural beliefs as a shield against moral responsibility for their actions.

Americans are currently preparing for a presidential election. Revelations about the reproductive life of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin have provoked discussion about procreation and hypocrisy (unfortunately, often at the expense of serious discussion of the real campaign issues).

One of the most morally blameworthy aspects of Palin’s situation (though, of course, it is impolite to mention it) is her choice to have unprotected sex at the age of 45, resulting in a pregnancy which, at its outset, carried a 1/30 risk of Down Syndrome (trisomy 21). Palin has consistently been lauded for her “courage” in carrying a child she knew had Down Syndrome to term, rather than aborting; there is little, if any, discussion of her blind selfishness and refusal of responsibility in conceiving that child in the first place, knowing that she would not abort, much less about whether she committed a wrong against her son by not aborting. People of Palin’s alleged religious beliefs generally frame children as “gifts from God” – in other words, they assert that people need take no responsibility toward conception or procreation.

I think this is appalling, and I am not alone – the California Court of Appeals agreed with me that a parent should be responsible in tort to a child born with a foreseeable defect (though the California legislature later changed the law to prevent such lawsuits):

One of the fears expressed in the decisional law is that, once it is determined that such infants have rights cognizable at law, nothing would prevent such a plaintiff from bringing suit against its own parents for allowing plaintiff to be born. . . . If a case arose where, despite due care by the medical profession in transmitting the necessary warnings, parents made a conscious choice to proceed with a pregnancy, with full knowledge that a seriously impaired infant would be born, that conscious choice would provide an intervening act of proximate cause to preclude liability insofar as defendants other than the parents were concerned. Under such circumstances, we see no sound public policy which should protect those parents from being answerable for the pain, suffering and misery which they have wrought upon their offspring. Curlender v. Bio-Science Labs, 106 Cal. App. 3d 811, 829 (1980). [Emphasis mine. Citations omitted.]

It is nauseating when religion is used as an excuse to avoid responsibility for processes that are well understood to be under human control.

Written by Sister Y

September 4, 2008 at 1:25 am