A Right to Procreation

by  —  January 21, 2008

Doug and William have been busy in the desert southwest this past week performing interviews and doing further collections for the Process archive. So you, dear reader, are likely stuck with just my short article in this cycle.

Here’s a thought experiment to do with a second person. Find someone who is remotely capable of having a 10 minute rational conversation. Take that person into a quiet, safe room where you’re both at ease and obviously not in ear-shot of anyone else.
Once you’re both relaxed, pick a plausible middle ground at which to start describing a prototype of a person who has difficulty caring solely for themselves as an adult in the world. For example, let’s pick “Hasn’t held a job for longer than a month in their entire adult life.”
Now start adding further attributes to the prototype, each making it even less possible for the person to care for themselves, like:

Once you’ve found a line at which there is absolutely no doubt in the other person’s mind that the prototype couldn’t be trusted to assure their own welfare in any shade of light, then posit:
…and now what if they decided to have a child.
I have a finf that says that your second person will agree that this is simply a bad idea: bad for the hypothetical kid; bad for the prototype — bad all around.

If we’re still on the rails then, at this point, the conversation is a bit jocular since there’s common agreement on a point between two people (which always seems to lighten the mood); further, it’s common agreement on a situation which is far worse than either you or your friend has likely had to experience — so there’s probably also a flavour of ‘good that it’s not me’ adding to the mood.
Now — while the mood is still floating along, suggest that there should be legislative efforts to prevent that scenario.

I have an easy sawbuck riding on the notion that your second person flinched and stammered, and an uneasy miasma has settled over the room.

A good question here is ‘Why have you become uneasy about making concrete something with which you just agreed?’ Often when people are asked the Why question, the response will invoke the evil intents of the Third Reich, early twentieth century efforts in a number of countries toward eugenics, and other inflammatory-but-ultimately-orthogonal bombasts.
I’ve heard less inflamed responses such as:

I’ve also heard responses such as, “It’s an inalienable human right to procreate”. For two people living forever stranded and alone on an island (and if no concern is given for welfare of a previously non-existent sentient being), this is an idea worth purchase; however, once you start introducing a society into the equation — the impact of the parents on that produced being, and of that shaped produced being on the surrounding society and members of it — the idea of how this is the discretion of simply the individual begins to get weathered.
Nearly all societies already legislate that a person is not allowed to torture or inflict bodily harm on another human being; we even have mechanisms in place that prevent conspiring in plans to create future damage to others (bombings for example). Despite this, and despite that even granting that one can likely get a clear majority of the population to agree in private on standards of invalid potential parents, nobody wants to stand up and say this in public – we are unwilling to even discuss, let alone legislate, this in open society.2

I don’t think there’s a rational person on earth who can’t define a person who shouldn’t have children. I just wonder why we don’t get out of our closets and address this in public.

  1. For example: ‘child welfare services’ or ‘social services’ in the US []
  2. Though there can be found ~legitimate related discussions of controlling procreation rights. []

Marked as: LawSocietal Policies  —  9 comments   (RSS)

9 Comments so far
  1. william January 21, 2008 11:18 am

    I’m curious. Is this post motivated by this particular topic? Or does it come from the desire to be free to discuss taboo topics publicly in general? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you needed a license to have kiddies. How would you regulate all the crystal meth snorting, wife beating, welfare abusing individuals? Fine them for procreating? That would have as much impact as promoting abstinence with teenagers.

  2. Loki der Quaeler January 21, 2008 11:56 am

    Two for the price of one! I’m continually mystified by this topic in particular, and i think it’s a fine example in the larger category of “things that humans are loathe to discuss publicly.”

    Implementation is definitely the bugaboo (and like all society-level policies: impossible to achieve 100% coverage); we are at-or-near negligible-side-effect, low maintenance, temporary sterilization technology — so that is potentially one part of the puzzle.

    A hypothetical implementation: a society in which were a person accepting monetary / food / housing support from the government (especially for assistance in care of their existing child[ren]), part of the contract would be delivery of birth control for the duration that they’re accepting assistance.
    While people often flinch at this idea — frequently labeling it as ‘discrimination against the poor’ — it is none-the-less a self-consistent concept: a person who requires help in caring for themselves would be both unable to provide care for themselves +1, and even less likely to ween themselves from assistance with the added weight of another dependent.

  3. FatalTwilight January 21, 2008 2:52 pm

    In Oregon at least, there is more punishments given to meth users in general when kids are involved.

    If they get caught with possesion…they receive:

    No rights to care for children,
    No right to leave the state without permission,
    No rights to SSI,
    No rights or eligibility to welfare assistance,
    Minimal mandatory sentences…

    I could see something along the lines of ‘No rights to bear children.’

    I have allready heard of the state taking babies just after they are born.

  4. magdalene January 21, 2008 3:48 pm

    I respectfully suggest that the emotional reaction (unease, stammering) to what you are suggesting is not only normative, but desirable (except the part about invoking evil intents of the Third Reich, etc.). Emotions have useful functionality beyond anger, irritation, frustration, self-righteousness, and sexual desire (I realize sexual desire is off-topic, and its inclusion in the emotional taxon is iffy, but it does seem to be a state freely accessible to those whose emotional range is limited to the aforementioned). Emotions can be useful adjuncts to rational consideration, especially regarding those issues that have implications. Consider an extreme illustrative example: Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski. Kuklinski denied having any appreciable emotional reaction to hacking people up, or beating them, tying them up alive, and allowing rats to “finish the job” as he videotaped the entire process. I would call this absence of emotional response a problem, specifically in deterring fucked up behavior. You might then reconsider your (inferred) condemnation of the hypothetical second person’s unease. Such condemnation would likely only serve evoke a more tenacious hold to their emotional response and actually interfere with rational thought (which, I’m guessing, is contrary to your modus operandi). Granted, many people have difficulty managing emotions in a way that allows for rational thought. But ideally, the unease would be a good indicator that your suggestion has serious societal implications, and should not be taken lightly. A wise person acknowledges the difficulty, makes meaning out of emotional responses (“I did not realize that I am so violently opposed to the idea because I am hanging on to an outmoded belief that procreation is an inalienable right. Now that I see that, I can continue working rationally on the question at hand”, or “I feel very uncomfortable because controlling reproduction seems to be contrary to my belief that human beings are autonomous and possess free will, but I’m curious and interested and want to hear more/think more.”

    Having said all of that, if reproductive control has the potential to decrease suffering/increase societal well-being, it’s at the very least an interesting idea that merits further collaborative discusion. One could look at it this way, “We (as the segment of society that has our shit together) are going to save you from yourselves and help you avoid having more children until you are able to get your shit together.”

  5. FatalTwilight January 21, 2008 5:37 pm

    I think this steps too close to the possibilty of mental issues interfering with procreation rights.

    Hypotheticly, Lets say a person has severe ADD or ADHD? What if that control mechanism stands in the way of that person having a child? Even if that person can live by his/herself, and the child will be just fine?

    Not to go too far into a conspiracy frame of thought, but, what if it went to the point of genetic prohibition?

    Hypotheticly Like, *Enforcement mechanism states* :

    “You have genes that will give this child cancer…manslaughter. You do not have the rights to bear children, we will be sterilizing you from (so and so date) and will no longer be able to have kids.”

  6. Loki der Quaeler January 24, 2008 1:02 pm

    Additionally, we already regulate who may and may not adopt children — barring people who are considered unfit to be a parent from adopting.
    It is duplicitous to not extend this screening to everyone wanting to have a child.

  7. magdalene January 24, 2008 3:42 pm

    “Wanting” is not a necessary criteria for childbearing. If all pregnancies were “wanted”, I’d wager at least a large chunk of the salient societal distress would disappear. To point out the obvious, adoption *can* be controlled (sufficiently so, for the purpose of this discussion). So we return to implementation (or, how to “control” childbearing), which, as you say, is the “bugaboo”. There are several means of “implementation” that come to mind. But could it be, at least in part, that the “bugaboo” here *also* involves disregarding miles of important precursory ground? In this hypothetical situation, how will human rights issues be addressed? How will you even begin to discuss such a loaded topic (with other people, people with, dare I say, marked emotionality, on the topic) in a manner that is productive? How would it be about greater societal good rather than megalomaniacal annoyance? What about alternatives? How, even, might it become a collaborative societal endeavour (which might then negate the aforementioned megalomaniacal annoyance, as well as many of the human rights conflicts)?

  8. Loki der Quaeler January 25, 2008 2:08 am

    (Seemingly contrary to what you wrote, the bugaboo is a bugaboo, in part, because it cannot involve disregarding the “miles of important precursory ground”.) Though i’ve rarely been labelled a diplomat, i would imagine that one vector with which to broach the topic with the greater population would be to couch it in terms of available resources — that we as a society/country/planet do not have the resources required for the population growth; perhaps make currently-more-scholastic notions like a ‘demographic trap’ into more household terms.

    That all being wished for, that type of intellectual discussion has been apparently ineffective in recent decades concerning other resource-related issues (oil consumption, for example). So, i’d have no pride lost at lumping this into the pile of tilting-at-windmills.

    Lastly, WRT human rights issues: as i attempted, and perhaps failed, to set forth in the article, i think that labelling procreation as a ‘human right’ is part of the problem here; as long as it gets that sort of quasi-immunity, there’s not much likelihood that a discussion on procreative rights would get traction.

  9. magdalene January 30, 2008 8:01 am

    Ah, no, that is exactly the meaning I intended to convey: that a productive discourse on this subject cannot involve disregarding the “miles of important precursory ground.” The “bugaboo” being that it usually is (disregarded).

    As for the human rights issue, you were clear in your position that it should not be a human rights issue. However, in order to have a productive discourse with other humans, it may be useful to understand the perspective and its importance, and to acknowledge it as a “this is annoying but necessary accommodation in my argument.”

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