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Why Have Children?

The Ethical Debate

Christine Overall

Publication Year: 2012

A wide-ranging exploration of whether or not choosing to procreate can be morally justified--and if so, how.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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Series Foreword

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pp. ix-x

Glenn McGee and I developed the Basic Bioethics series and collaborated as series coeditors from 1998 to 2008. In fall 2008 and spring 2009, the series was reconstituted, with a new editorial board and under my sole editorship. I am pleased to present the thirtieth book in the series.The Basic Bioethics series makes innovative works in bioethics avail-...

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pp. xi-xiii

Writing this book has been an exciting and difficult challenge, and many people as well as two institutions have provided input, support, and help. In 2006, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ap-pointed me the tenth Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies for a year. The university offered the ideal environment to begin work on this project. ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-18

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy I suspect that most people eventually ask themselves the question “Why Back when I was much younger than I am now, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to have children or not. I eventually did choose to have ...

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2 Reproductive Freedom, Autonomy, andReproductive Rights

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pp. 19-34

The ground of the right to become a parent is indeed the interests of the potential parents. Becoming a parent is something that lends shape and meaning to one’s life and often to a life that one shares with another parent; and evidence suggests that the interest is one that is very widely shared. So it is a natural candidate to ground a right. That right cannot be absolute, for two reasons: first, the standard ...

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3 When Prospective Parents Disagree

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pp. 35-56

What is the morally justified path when the two individuals in a couple disagree about whether to continue their pregnancy or not?1 Various approaches have been proposed to resolve such disagreements. Some aspects of these disagreements have been explored in the recent work of several American philosophers, and I try to make sense of what I think are ...

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4Deontological Reasons for Having Children

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pp. 57-70

Whenever human beings decide to reproduce, the decision has at least two foundational and morally relevant features. First, children themselves do not choose to come into existence; by the very nature of procreation, their consent is not possible. Hence, in cases where pregnancy is the result of choice, the decision that a new human being will come into existence ...

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5 Consequentialist Reasons for Having Children

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pp. 71-94

If the criterion for the moral evaluation of our behavior is the conse-quences it produces, then we should act in a way that will produce good and avoid causing harm. It then appears that one is justified in having a child when the positive consequences of bringing the child into existence outweigh the negative consequences of doing so. This view, in its most ...

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6 Not “Better Never to Have Been”

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pp. 95-116

In chapter 5, I noted in the discussion of savior siblings the obvious fact that children do not come into existence by choice. Indeed, “I didn’t ask to be born!” is a reproach some children bring against their parents. Given that by the very nature of their situation it is impossible for children to consent to coming into existence, it is essential to ask whether human ...

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7 An Obligation Not to Procreate?

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pp. 117-148

If David Benatar were correct that for every single person it is better never to come into existence, then there would be a strong reason for believ-ing that we always have an obligation not to procreate. I have shown that Benatar’s theory does not stand up against a variety of criticisms. Nonetheless, other important moral reasons may count against having ...

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8 Illness, Impairment, and the ProcreationDecision

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pp. 149-172

In chapter 7, I argued that there is no obligation to achieve procreative beneficence in Savulescu’s sense of the term, largely because of its costs to women. But that is not to say there is no responsibility at all to consider the future child’s health. It ought to be obvious and not in need of argument that the aim in procreating should not be merely to produce a ...

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9 Overpopulation and Extinction

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pp. 173-202

The discussion in previous chapters has demonstrated and defended several ethical principles for procreative choices. First, it is essential to rec-ognize and respect the reproductive rights described in chapter 2. Human beings have a right not to reproduce; hence, there is no general obligation to procreate. Human beings also have a right to reproduce in the negative ...

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10 Procreation, Values, and Identity

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pp. 203-220

In this book, I have presented no general formula for handling the ethics of choosing to have children; there cannot be one. In cases of ethical ambiguity, there are often no obvious, easy, mechanical answers. We can only attempt to figure out which purported solutions don’t work, and we can assess the weight of the evidence on different sides. To suppose ethics ...


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pp. 221-236


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pp. 237-246

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Basic Bioethics

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pp. 247-248

Peter A. Ubel, Pricing Life: Why It’s Time for Health Care RationingMark G. Kuczewski and Ronald Polansky, eds., Bioethics: Ancient Themes  in Suzanne Holland, Karen Lebacqz, and Laurie Zoloth, eds., The Human Embry-onic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public PolicyGita Sen, Asha George, and Piroska Östlin, eds., Engendering  International ...


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pp. 249-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780262301299
E-ISBN-10: 0262301296
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262016988
Print-ISBN-10: 0262016982

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 7 tables
Publication Year: 2012