Michael Cook

Is it better never to have been born?

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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May 9, 2012 (MercatorNet.com) - In 2006 a Sydney couple sued doctors for the “wrongful life” of their severely disabled son. The case failed in the High Court, which ruled that it was impossible to measure the merits of existence versus non-existence. Earlier this year the couple returned, this time with a lawsuit based on “wrongful birth”. Similar cases have cropped up around in the United States and Europe as well. But they have almost always failed for similar reasons – being alive is better than not being alive.

But is it?

Not every everyone thinks so. David Benatar, a South African philosopher with a utilitarian bent, published a book in 2006 entitled “Better Never to Have Been”. His argument was that “although we may not be able to say of the never-existent that never existing is good for them, we can say of the existent that existence is bad for them.”

So what about childbearing? There is a range of views amongst utilitarian philosophers. Rebecca Bennett, from the University of Manchester, believes that having children is just another irrational experience like taking recreational drugs or dancing. “In most cases we choose to bring to birth children on the basis of unquantifiable and unpredictable ideas of what they will bring to our lives,” she says.

Matti Häyry, a well-known Finnish bioethicist working in the UK, believes that having children is both irrational and immoral because the children might encounter suffering in the course of their lives, and “it is morally wrong to cause avoidable suffering to other people”.

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The latest contribution to this debate comes from a Canadian, Christine Overall. She published a book in February which is currently making a splash in bioethics circles, “Why Have Children?” Dr Overall is delighted to have two children of her own and advises people who ask her advice about whether or not to have children, “Don’t miss it!” But she believes that the reasons most people have them are mistaken. At the most, they should have no more than one.

First of all, most people believe that existence is good for a child. Not necessarily true. As the High Court reminded us, it is impossible to measure the merits of existence versus non-existence. Furthermore, if the existence of one child is good, two must be better, and three even better. How do you know when to stop if all lives are precious?

Another class of reasons are essentially selfish. Some people want to perpetuate their family name. Others want someone to care for them and comfort them in their old age. Many people feel that parenthood will bring them happiness. But all these reasons are wrong-headed, Overall says. A child cannot be regarded an instrument for someone else’s happiness. That is clearly immoral.

Overall’s point is not so much that we should stop having children as that we should reflect upon it very, very carefully. Having children should not be something that just happens in a moment of romantic exuberance. Now that men and women have control of their fertility it must be a conscious choice.

She does not agree completely with Miserabilist-in-Chief Benatar. In her view, he is “deeply mistaken”, not least of all because he fails to take women’s perspectives into account. If he were taken seriously, pessimism about human existence might lead to more female infanticide or assaults on pregnant women.

But what if everyone decided not to procreate and lived lives of voluntary childlessness?

Overall is consistent – she can’t see much wrong with that. “I have not found adequate reasons to show that the extinction of the human species—provided it is voluntary—would inevitably be a bad thing,” she writes. “We matter to ourselves, of course, but it is in no way evident that humanity matters to anyone else. If we were to disappear, members of other species would soon forget us and get along without us.”

Perhaps this is the juncture to pose the question of whether “Why Have Children?” is really a book that belongs in the Basic Bioethics series of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. The word bioethics incorporates the Greek word for life, Bios. In a sense bioethics begins from the premise that Life is its foundational principle, the supremely good thing upon which the whole discipline is based.

Clearly the views of philosophers like Benatar and Overall are extreme. But they do represent a dangerous notion that is permeating our culture – that human life is no big deal. If that were true, then euthanasia and abortion are positive actions, not an assault on our dignity.

It’s hard to know where this reasoning would stop. If humanity, with all its powers of reason and its capacity for love, is not worthy of existence, what special status should be given to other life – animals, plants, viruses, the whole biosphere? When drug addicts lose their self-respect, they trash their surroundings. If Benatar and Overall were taken seriously, it could lead to environmental devastation.

There is no denying that it is healthy for academics to pose sharp questions. But isn’t a bioethicist who questions the value of human life itself like a physicist who denies the existence of cause and effect or a theologian who denies the existence of God? Without an unconditional commitment to the value of human life, a discipline like bioethics is in danger of losing its coherence.

Michael Cook is editor of the online bioethics news service, BioEdge. This article is reprinted from Mercatornet.com under a Creative Commons License.

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South African mom files ‘wrongful life’ lawsuit on behalf of Downs son

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

A South African woman has launched a "wrongful life" lawsuit against the Cape Town-based Foetal Assessment Centre, claiming a failure to inform her that the child she was carrying was at risk of having Down Syndrome prevented her from aborting her baby.

A twist in this lawsuit is that, unlike other "wrongful birth" lawsuits, the mother in this case missed the time limit to file the claim on her own behalf, so she is asking the South African Constitutional Court to allow her to sue the center for “wrongful life” on behalf of her now-born son.

“You have a duty to tell my mother carrying me that I'm malformed so that she can make an informed decision as to whether or not to carry me to term,” the statement of claim against the Foetal Assessment Centre reads, according to SABC News.

“It is not as if the foetus is sort of putting up its hand and saying why you didn’t destroy me," the mother's lawyer, Paul Hoffman, explained to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. "The foetus is complaining that its malformation, its development is the result of the bad advice that was given.”

The SABC report did not say what compensation the woman is seeking.

The scope of the case is similar to that of a New Zealand couple who won a lawsuit claiming monetary compensation after a routine 20 week ultrasound scan failed to discover that their daughter had spina bifida.

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The mother, whose name has not been released, claimed that the continuance of the pregnancy was a “personal injury,” and, had she been given the correct diagnosis after that scan, she would have aborted her daughter.

"We consider that the continued pregnancy of the appellant following a misdiagnosis in the 20 week scan is capable of being an injury suffered by the appellant,” the court ruled, and directed the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to make the woman eligible for compensation for the ongoing surgical and physiotherapy expenses incurred by their child.

New Zealand disability advocate Mike Sullivan said the underpinning attitude behind the decision is that those with disability, both born and unborn, are seen as a burden on society.

“This is what happens,” Sullivan said, when “the children become reduced to nothing – wrong even to exist.”

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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