Queen's University

Why have children? More people should engage in this ethical debate

Philosophy professor Christine Overall's
newest book is called Why Have
Children?: The Ethical Debate.

It seems people only think about the ethical aspects of having children when they see a tabloid story about Nadya Suleman, the so-called Octomom, or watch the Duggar Family (stars of 19 Kids & Counting), and that needs to change, according to a Queen’s University researcher.

“Because of the invention of the birth control pill and other forms of contraception, people, especially in the West, have more control over procreation now than at any time in the history of humanity. It’s now possible to recognize that choosing whether or not to have children is not just a pragmatic decision but also an ethical one,” says philosophy professor Christine Overall. “Some people put more thought into buying a house or choosing a car than they put into the decision to have a child.”

Dr. Overall feels it is an under-analyzed issue. In western societies, couples are often called upon to justify the choice to be childless, but never to supply reasons for having kids. Yet she argues that the burden of justification should not rest on those who choose not to have children.

The choice to have a child is significant because it creates a dependent and vulnerable being, unable to consent to coming into existence. As a result, the reasons people have children have ethical significance. For example, procreating simply in order to save a troubled marriage, to carry on the family name, or to provide care in old age fails to recognize the moral importance of the child.

Dr. Overall explores these issues in her new book Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate (MIT Press).

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Last updated at 1:50 pm EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
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