Rant For Today: Breeding Ethics

A non-developmental series of models. Click for more info

A non-developmental series of models made for medical science. Click for more info and the credit and all that.

Now here is a sensible blog post about breeding by Duchess.

It actually has citations from proper articles. It even the mentions a girl doing a PhD on the subject of the ethics of breeding. Unlike me, who can never be bothered to track down research and cite shit. I am too lazy to do any more than have an incoherent rant. This entire blog is one huge, incoherent rant.

I must confess I particularly enjoyed the timid disclaimer at the bottom about how the PhD girl who is writing about breeding morality loves children and isn’t having a go at any breeders. That made me snicker a little, the idea that there was a need for that disclaimer.

The article linked within the post from the New Yorker was also a very interesting read.

The size of your family helps determine how the world of the future will look.

The size of your family helps determine how the world of the future will look. (Credit the New Yorker)

The case against kids: Is procreation immoral?’ Elizabeth Kolbert, 2012. in The New Yorker.

“In “Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate” (M.I.T. Press), Christine Overall tries to subject that decision to morally rigorous analysis. Overall, who teaches philosophy at Queen’s University, in Ontario, dismisses the notion that childbearing is “natural” and therefore needs no justification.

“There are many urges apparently arising from our biological nature that we nonetheless should choose not to act upon,” she observes. If we’re going to keep having kids, we ought to be able to come up with a reason.”

I had a huge argument with a friend of the ex’s back in Bombay last December. We met him and his now fiancée at this hotel near the airport for dinner (Don’t know why we chose a place near the airport. The airport is in the middle of nowhere, the food was so-so and was massively over priced). We got into a heated debate over our Paan Pasand flavoured Shesha, or perhaps even a sequence of debates.

The first one was about breeding dogs to develop or enhance certain genetic traits. (I’m totally against this. It seems cruel and unnecessary to actively cultivate a squashed pug nose if that nose results in limited or poor ability to breathe.)

Or those genetically bred cows that have so much muscle (It’s for people who want really lean, low-fat meat) that they can’t even have sex without a human manually having to inserting the bull’s penis. Here I’ve even attached an article. See? I’m being so good and almost semi-researched. Maybe I should do a PhD.

This argument then morphed into:

“If you know you and your partner both have a high chance of passing on a debilitating genetic condition to any offspring would you still have a baby?”

I’d like to say that I presented a good defence of the ‘No’ stance, but some of his arguments (especially no.4 below) were so maddening that after a point I just got enraged and incoherent. Also the ex was on my left, acting like an atrocious little troll, constantly interrupting rudely in trying to change the subject and derail the debate. The ex doesn’t enjoy debates.

So this guy’s response to the question above was “Yes” and these were the core reasons listed below (My arguments underneath)

Venus in Flames. Click for info about this Votive drawing.

Venus in Flames. Click for info about this Votive drawing on the Wellcome collection. (and the artist credits and stuff)

1.

“All procreation carries some risk.”

Of course it does. What a redundant point. Everything we ever do carries risk. Walking across a street carries risk. But most people also have the capacity to assess the risk and make an informed decision based on that assessment.

If there is a high risk when running across a train track when the signal is red that you will get hit, then most people would avoid running across a train track. I don’t see why this wouldn’t apply to breeding. In fact I should think this should especially apply to breeding in the circumstances mentioned above.

“Dark-skinned” pregnant doll - Edo-Tokyo Museum. Click through for more info

“Dark-skinned” pregnant doll – Edo-Tokyo Museum. Click through for more info from the blog I nicked it from.

2.

“Doctors don’t know everything and can’t predict the outcome accurately. Even if they tell you the chances of this kid having a horrific incurable condition is high, like a 50/50 chance. Even if its 80%. Even if its 99.9%. They can’t know everything. So I’d have this kid anyway and take that 0.01% chance.”

What an idiot.

Again, sure part of the statement is true to a degree. (Doctors don’t know everything.) However it is also insane.

Firstly doctors don’t claim to know everything. They are presenting you with the chances of a certain outcome that you are free to then take or leave. However their inaccuracy will be a good deal less inaccurate than yours.

Secondly if using the logic above, you refuse to listen to a professional who may have spent a several years studying to give you solutions, why bother going to see a doctor at all? Just visit a Homeopath. Or a yogi. Just as good. In fact better – You’ll won’t have to think about the risks at all – They’ll tell you to pray harder, swallow a special herbal remedy when the Moon is in Vishnu and everything will be just dandy.

But reading between the lines here’s what I think this guy was actually saying,

“I’m willing to take the risk, even if it’s very high because the person who would suffer the most is this child but that’s ok because what I want is a baby and getting what I want is more important to me and besides I can easily rationalise it.”

In fact if he just said that I’d be fine with the whole thing. I’d still think he was a selfish, amoral, butthead but at least he’d be an honest one. This whole ‘I’m bringing a child into the world for its benefit and the benefit of the world’ is such a crock of shit. I want to vomit every time some deluded breeder or to-be breeder says it. (Unlike the Duchess I have no disclaimer)

Wood carved fetus model set (circa 1877) - Toyota Collection. Click through for more info

Wood carved fetus model set (circa 1877) – Toyota Collection. Click through for more info from the blog I nicked it from.

3.

“Existing but being in incredible pain is better than not existing at all.”

I couldn’t even be bothered to argue this at dinner. It’s too … exhausting. Non existing creatures won’t care that they don’t exist. Plus creating something when you know it will suffer (and not in the existential angsty sort of way, while listening to a Morrissey album, but really suffer.) seems like nothing short of torture to me.

I think this guy had religious leanings. People with religious leanings never seem to mind creating things that will suffer. They have a million ways of justifying it. So that’s always a dead-end. I stopped bothering with it a while ago. Religion I mean. If I’m going to argue about fiction I’d rather it was a debate about The Hobbit and whether Gandalf was a bit gay. (I think he might have been)

Image from the Wellcome collection "Draw your own votive". Click through for the story behind it.

Image from the Wellcome collection “Draw your own votive”. Click through for the story behind it on the Wellcome collection. (and the artist credits and stuff)

4.

“I’d love this child. My love would be better than it having good health.”

Actual statement. I’m not even paraphrasing.

Oh yes yes of course, your love would compensate for all this baby suffers even though you chose to procreate in the face of medical advice, even though you could have adopted. What a saint.

He then presented us with 2 theoretical situations:

One a baby is born to a large but poor family. They neglect the child and probably they won’t be able to give him/her any of the good things in life but this kid would be totally healthy.

Or two, a baby is born to this genetically dodge couple, he has a terrible incurable chronic illness and disability but his parents would really, really love it and give it whatever it wanted.

If you had the power to decide into which family this baby would be born which would you choose?

Even the ex who normally NEVER agrees with me picked the first option. Who the fuck wouldn’t?? I’d imagine that most parents just want their kids to be born healthy.

This particular argument really blew my mind. The sheer deluded arrogance of it. The amazing selfishness. My love will conquer all. Even genetic illness. Even suffering. I mean seriously. Who does this guy think he is? Mother Teresa?

Even now, months after this dinner my mind reels.

Drawings of the stages of pregnancy to guide clinical examination, 1822

Drawings of pregnancy to guide clinical examination. Click for more info & credits. The grossly distended tummy over the vagina in last image makes me feel a bit queasy.

“Benatar’s case rests on a critical but, in his view, unappreciated asymmetry. Consider two couples, the A’s and the B’s. The A’s are young, healthy, and rich. If they had children, they could give them the best of everything—schools, clothes, electronic gaming devices. Even so, we would not say that the A’s have a moral obligation to reproduce.

The B’s are just as young and rich. But both have a genetic disease, and, were they to have a child together, that child would suffer terribly. We would say, using Benatar’s logic, that the B’s have an ethical obligation not to procreate.

The case of the A’s and the B’s shows that we regard pleasure and pain differently. Pleasure missed out on by the nonexistent doesn’t count as a harm. Yet suffering avoided counts as a good, even when the recipient is a nonexistent one.”

I’m totally on board with this Bentar guy. In fact I wish he was with me at this dinner. Just him, his huge thesis (not a euphemism) and his beautiful logic.

The ex was very annoyed about this entire debate and refused to take part, except by trying to stop it by occasionally yelling at me. (Being the incredibly rude person the ex is).

For once though I was perfectly happy to comply and wrap the thing up. (It wasn’t going anywhere this debate, although I did get quite annoyed when the ex was being particularly trollish. We were both sitting there hissing at each other now and then.) but the ex’s friend really wanted to carry on. He just wouldn’t drop it. The ex lectured me all the way home. I didn’t pay any attention.

In other news, I just got back from holiday in the Caribbean. I feel terribly smug.

I’m brown as a nut and looking more like an Indian than I’ve looked in ages.

So I’m asking Punjab to send over a crate of Fair & Lovely. It seems to be all the rage these days. 

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21 thoughts on “Rant For Today: Breeding Ethics

  1. Nice rant. ^^ The person you were talking to sounds like a total imbecile. I’m not sure I could have even began such a conversation, because I think I may have burst a blood vessel at some point during the moronic discussion.

    I’m a little more confused by the actual thesis that started your discussion. From what I could see, it was trying to morally debate not the ethics of having a possibly severely disabled child, but of having children at all… a debate I find about as idiotic as the debate that then ensued from it…

    We need a moral reason to reproduce? Talk about putting the cart before the friggin’ horse…! Before we’re ‘citizens of society’, ‘moral upstanding beings’ or over-educated, we’re carbon based life-forms that don’t need any more justification than a virus or a beech tree. If people don’t want to have kids for whatever reason, that’s cool, but when they start calling it a ‘moral decision’, I laugh and figure: Self-righteous people removing themselves from the gene pool. Booyeah.

    • He’s a nice guy, but i really don’t like his life views at all.

      No the thesis wasn’t really about the insane argument but touched on certain points (the bit about 2 couples A & B) which reminded me of this argument.

      From what I’ve gathered from the article, the author of that book states that if procreation is a choice (which it wasn’t always) then we need more than the “Well I want it so there” or “well i can so there” as a reason to breed. I think thats a very reasonable point. I don’t think it’s saying you shouldn’t ever. It’s just saying think about it, its a choice.

      But the article also counter balanced this with some other dudes view on breeding based on economic principles from which i gather that 3 children is the optimal number for economic happiness.

      • Well that is something I can definitely agree with (giving it careful though and considering one’s economic means….). I only get mad at the people who take it to the other extreme and are like ‘well, the world’s a fucked up place; people shouldn’t be bringing more kids into it..” It’s like… ‘well, you’re still here’ 😉 That attitude makes me about as mad as people who just drop the kids out of them like guppies and say to hell with it, they’ll grow up some way or another…

        • I dont care about the terrible place bit only the over-populated bit. The stats are scary. (I think the ethical part in the article is not just about the welfare of the kid and your biological desires but about the pros and cons of procreation for a society. Does the society benefit. I think that also is a reasonable question to pose given the prospective stats on the amount of people there will be in the future)

          But yes I agree. I think you should have a rant about it.

          Some of the couples Supernanny make me really angry. It really annoys me when lets say someone has 2-3 kids with this person X, then they break up, gets together with person Y and decides to recreate the nuclear family by having more kids. Why?? Why aren’t the first set good enough anymore? Are they broken? No wonder you have to call in Supernanny. you now have 5 kids. your first set of kids are just glorified baby sitters. They must be pissed.

          But thats a rant for another time.

  2. While I’m sympathetic to some of your concerns here, this is all (and I’m blaming these bioethicists whose “beautiful logic” is neither quite so beautiful nor airtight-logical as you wish to think) entirely too vague to pass full philosophical muster.

    The conception of “pain” or “suffering” here is just too vague. How much pain (or– because I think we’re dodging the bullet here) deformity/incapacity are we talking about?

    Let’s be frank: the babies that are likely to put the very greatest burden upon society, like Downs’ (is it Down’s or Downs’, I can never recall– see how heartless I am?) Syndrome sufferers, real Austists (I’m talking the ones who smear their shit all over the walls and regularly attack other humans), or the mentally incapacitated in general, might not be very cognizant of physical suffering or the humiliation of their (I can be godless like you Janine): incomplete humanity.

    OTOH: People we think of as suffering tremendous physical pain thanks to gross, humiliating, and confining debilities may nonetheless cultivate a very full interior mental life. These persons might very well read Schopenhauer and say, “No: It is better to have lived and suffered, than never to have lived at all.”

    I would also say this, and I suspect you know it’s true: there are *plenty* of people who would say to Rich, Healthy Couple No. 1 that they *do* have an obligation to “breed”. (C’mon Janine, you’re from India. We weren’t born yesterday . . . )

    Maybe there’s a point there. The species must continue. Why shouldn’t those who are best situated to provide it with strong, capable, confident members take up their burden. –Of course I don’t mean they should have their sperm and eggs swiped, or be forced to couple by court mandate; but why shouldn’t their relatives urge a kind of “moral” burden (with a bit of shaming thrown in) to have children?

    Anyway, one way or another we’re all going to suffer horribly one day. Terrible, indeed terrifying as that thought must be, can we make all of life revolve around that awesome, life-destroying fact?

    I have to tell you, btw, that the late-coital thought of creating an unintended pregnancy has an astounding aphrodisiac quality upon me. If I had the money to pay out, I suspect I’d wind up leaving bastards all over the place. I swear to you, there’s a voice inside the head that goes: “Just forget the condom, c’mon, accidents are *hot* . . . .”

    • Qualifier during this argument with this guy were – seriously poor quality of life. Lots of hospital time, immobility, short life span, chronic pain, no real hope for significant relief except temporarily maybe. Something like Cerebral Palsy for example.

      Mental disabilities like Down Syndrome, Autism or Aspergers don’t really mean the individual couldn’t have a good quality of life so I’d say if you knew in advance via a screening then it would boil down to a personal choice depending on how much care you’d be willing to give.

      with regards to Schopenhauer and say, “No: It is better to have lived and suffered, than never to have lived at all.”- no I can’t get behind that as I said in no.3. I don’t mean that if you suffer it’s better to die, once alive you hardly have a choice. But if you don’t exist then the concept above is moot and if you are going to create a person I think you need to be a little responsible about it. Giving them a good start regarding their health I would imagine is a good way to begin.

      The thought of your bastards littered across the country fills me with dread. Maybe you have a couple already!

  3. Holy moly is this a heavy subject! I’m not sure where I stand on the matter… but I really like the way you’ve laid your argument out. Gonna read over again, ponder a bit more while stroking my imaginary wise-man beard, and maybe come back with a more substantial comment 😉

  4. As usual, you tackle a topic with humor and wit. I especially loved your illustrations for this one, Janine– wowza, look at all that! I felt like a visitor in an art museum of natural history.

  5. Oh Janine. Breeding . . your all time favourite topic.

    I put forward my strategy for future breeding in this world to my lady friend the other day. She didn’t like it. Here it is.

    Since the population of the world has broken the 7 billion mark and shows no sign of slowing down I think it’s high time for drastic action. I reckon everyone, absolutely everyone, no exceptions should be made to sit a multiple choice exam to determine whether or not we really want their spawn to inherit the earth. When you take the test you will be put in front of a computer and you will have 1 hour to finish the test. Since it is multiple choice, once the exam is over the results will be known instantaneously to the board presiding over the exam. At one end of the room there will be a door that everyone will file through one at a time. Once through this door the participant will find themselves in another room with a doctor waiting. Everyone will get an injection. Depending on whether you passed or failed you will either get a placebo or you will get the other one which will render you infertile forever more. Then off you go on your merry way.

    The test itself will be a simple intelligence and moral exam. Actually since you brought it up there will also be a preliminary health check so that if you do have a debilitating genetic condition you will fail instantly. Of course you’ll still sit the exam because you’ll be none the wiser and we don’t want any kerfuffle from selfish pricks demanding the right to clutter up the world with their offspring.

    The test will be impartial and will not take into consideration class, wealth, race, religion etc. If you’re healthy, smart and not a complete prick you’ll be fine. If you’re a clueless obese prat then we’ll be fine without your kids thank you very much.

  6. On a separate note that guy you had dinner with sounds like a complete tool. If a couple really really must have a child and there is the risk of it being born with some form of debilitating condition there is another option.

    ADOPT YOU PRICK.

    Seriously, there are so many children who are already here with us that would benefit hugely from being brought up in a loving home environment rather than spending their lives in foster care or orphanages. But I imagine that wouldn’t satisfy such a persons desire to leave their seed on this planet. Pillock.

    • Hahahah I can’t help it! I held it all in since December. It’s April now. I think I did well.

      I like your idea! (but then I would) although all tests eventually get corrupted and all tests can be cheated.

      Maybe it should just be massively high taxes for more than 1 child & free abortion clinics, vasectomies and tubectomies.

      The guy isn’t a tool. He is a nice guy. But his views are terrifying. Also his gf was totally on board with all of this. No wonder they are getting married. I’ll report on the breeding in about 9 months time. I have no doubt they’ll get cracking asap.

  7. In my family (the one I came from – as in, the one with my siblings) – I am the designated breeder.

    It has left my brother and sister quite grateful as they like to travel and live the life of party monkeys and my sister has an incurable genetic disease that needs to be ‘managed’ even though she can live an awesome if shortened life – which would not have made an impact on her decision to not have children anyway but hey – sometimes things just work out that way.

    Besides the point but thought it was pertinent to your post.

    I think for your argument to have any kind of validity a trip to an orphanage of thrown away genetically mutated children is in order – and perhaps to even have a drug induced shaman led journey into a life where one has a child like this. Whether your child is healthy or ill, happy or sad if you’re worth your salt as a parent and if you’re doing it right then everything that your child experiences is something that you take like a knife or rainbow into your own little emotional sphere.

    Having children and talking about having children is like winning the lotto and talking about winning the lotto – you never ever can tell what you’re going to do until it happens, it’s stupid that way. Poxy human condition has made room for a severe amount of idiots, just hold thumbs I’m not raising some more of them…

    Thanks for provoking some thought. I look forward to the rant about the necessity of the Supernannies.

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