Once in a while I hear of someone who’s decided to not have children because of bad ideas. I don’t want to argue that anyone should or should not have children, but I do want to remove those bad ideas. The bad ideas usually go something like this:
“I have this condition, and I don’t think I should inflict that on anyone, so I’m not having children”
This sounds reasonable - not wanting to inflict some nasty condition on someone. But it’s not reasonable.
Bad Idea 1: Genetic Inheritance
A condition caused by genes isn’t always heritable. Genes cause Downs Syndrome, but Downs Syndrome is not inheritable. Some forms of dwarfism are passed onto children, others are not.
Odd as it may sound, I think that people who talk about not wanting to pass a condition onto any children have not always done the research to check if that condition could be passed down to a child.
Bad Idea 2: A Life Not Worth Living
Cross-measuring possibilities of someone living with a nasty condition vs not living at all won’t end with a satisfying, clear conclusion. Trying to imagine the right choice for a non-existent person can be…well it might not be impossible, but I did my Masters dissertation on the subject and in the end failed to find a meaningful solution, so I’m qualified enough to say that this problem isn’t easy.
Some people with Huntington’s disease (or stick in its place any awful, and fully inheritable condition) think they shouldn’t have children because the child will inherit the disease. The weighing of options here essentially goes like this:
It’s better to have no life, than to die painfully, and early.
This sounds okay as far as children who live in a hospital, in increasing pain, and die at aged 6, stuffed full of drugs. If I found myself close to death, and then had the option of continuing life, in pain, and delirious, wanting things I couldn’t have, then death seems the correct and courageous choice. But Huntington’s doesn’t suck out every joy in life over every year. If, on the edge of death, someone gave you a way out, and said you could live for another thirty years, but would then deteriorate, painfully, over the course of five to ten years, you may take that option. You’re already - most likely - going to die in pain, over a very long period of time. It’s probably started now. Anyone reading this almost certainly has some little aches and pains around their body, cracks in the skin showing as the body begins to fall apart. But we don’t think ‘oh, if this goes on, I will wish I’d never been born!’.
Ten bad years in exchange for thirty normal years is not an irrational choice to make, and if someone wanted to leave the party early to skip on the bad ending, the option exists without too much planning or expense. And all this assumes the worst possible case for Huntington’s - the vast majority don’t have the worst possible ending - many don’t inherit the disease at all.
Bad Idea 3: Seeing the Future
And of course all of these ideas assume that we know what the future holds. We don’t. We don’t know what kinds of medicines could help people suffering from with a particular ailment in the future. I say in particular ‘help’, rather than ‘cure’, as so little has been cured in the last few decades, but people find it much easier to live with diabetes, HIV, and pretty much any serious illness now than thirty years ago.
We don’t know the quality of life anyone will have.
Bad Idea 4: Money
Not having children because your funds are tight and you don’t want them to get any tighter is a fine reason not have children. Clearly, nobody will say that kids come cheap in any sense.
However, people worrying about funds because the child themselves would not have a reasonable upbringing without a family car, yearly trips to theme parks, and plenty of pocket money, are making a big mistake. The mistake isn’t in not having children, it’s thinking that children need money to be happy.
I grew up without money, and I didn’t notice until I went to school. Even then, occasionally hearing about computer games I’d never get to play was hardly the worst thing. I played outside, I read books, and watched the three channels available on television. I had a much better childhood that a great many people I know. I also wasn’t exactly poor - my mum was poor. I was ten.
If this is unconvincing, then gather in your mind one room of people who grew up with rich parents who shouted at them, or hit them, and another room who grew up with poor parents who were supportive. Now think about which room you’d rather be in, or which room holds people you can imagine being friends with more easily.
Returning to the Start…
I’ve heard this kind of self-inflicted Eugenics too many times, and it suffers from all the standard problems with Eugenics.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to have children. The fact that we don’t know what the future holds also means people born now may have a worse time than their parents, in any part of the world (or the whole world, altogether, due to some massive catastrophe).
I’m not saying ‘go to the shops’, I’m just saying that fear of crossing the road is a bad reason to avoid the shops. If someone doesn’t want to have children because they can’t be bothered with the work then nobody can fault them - children certainly involve work! But “because I don’t want to”, makes a far more solid argument than any sort of Eugenics, even self-inflicted Eugenics.