Why You Should Adopt (and Not Create) Children
Given the large number of orphaned children in the world, I can see no reason why people should create children. Secondly, a failure to become adoptive parents is not sufficient reason to then procreate.
The idea of being a parent should be thought through more carefully. When we assess the idea, it is clear that, given the current conditions of the world, there is no reason to create more children.
I proposed this argument in 2010 and received vitriolic replies, which brought more heat than light to the discussion (which isn’t necessarily bad, just unhelpful in many cases). I hope, but do not expect, things to be different here. My argument is simple and I will outline some common responses. I’d also like to thank the few who took the time over the years to extend their support for the argument; indeed who are now involved in adopting and not creating children.
My argument, which I don’t think is original, goes like this.
The Argument for Pro-Active Adoption:
Given the large number of orphaned children in the world, I can see no reason why people should create children. Secondly, a failure to become adoptive parents is not sufficient reason to then procreate. I also think it goes much further, in that I can see no reason for anyone to create children. However, for this initial stage of the discussion, I do at least want to focus on the argument for pro-active adoption.
Two forms of parenthood
The first thing many will say is that there’s no reason to say we ought not to breed. However, that is precisely my point: What reasons do we have for breeding that can’t ethically be catered to by adopting? Or, as in a corollary: What good reasons are there for creating children in general?
The initial aspect to note is that “parenthood” is a messy word: it’s tied up both biologically and symbolically. In the former sense, it’s simply the factual assertion that this or that person gave you half your genes. This is, to me, morally irrelevant: Just as presumably most parents are good to their children, so we also have the Josef Fritzl’s of the world, doing horrific things to their biological children. Though there is a scientific reason why genetic relations will, more than likely, lead to ethical treatment (this is descriptive), it doesn’t mean there will or should be. Just because Josef Fritzl is Elisabeth’s father is no reason she ought to treat him with the dignity and respect many of us accord our parents. Indeed, the only reason we ought to love our parents (and indeed any family members) is the same reason we love anyone else: for what they do for us, not what they genetically gave or share with us. We might as well say we ought to be kind to people who share the same eye-colour for all the moral worth genetics holds. No one gets a free pass because of biological relations.
In terms of parenthood of the symbolic sort, this is the state that probably most biological parents are in and have been: looking after, loving, being kind and wanting the best for the more vulnerable (in this case, children). But notice: this doesn’t depend on biology for it to occur. Adoptive parents do this for their adoptive children, too. Indeed, older siblings or friends can do it for the younger too. (Indeed, you might say that, later in life, some of us will be doing it for our parents.)
I want to make these two definitions of parenthood clear: it is the second one that matters to us, not the first, since biological parenthood only tells us about biological relations, not moral or behavioural ones. (That’s why I’ve always found it strange when people want to find their “real” parents – why? Who cares? Just because they share genes with you doesn’t mean they love or want to love you.)
Why these definitions matter
Why does this matter? The world will be a better place if we had more of the latter type of parenthood (symbolic) and less of the former (biological). That is the essence of my argument. And, keeping with this, it means that creating children is not the essential element of being a parent: it’s about doing the best you can for children.
Our world is overpopulated; it’s teeming with disaster, frustration, misery in individual and collective lives; our environment is getting worse with more demands on ever decreasing resources (or rather, increasingly incapable means of distribution of said resources), made worse by further mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. And, for some reason, we want to create more people, create more burdens on resources, create more lives to suffer? I can see no reason to create life when there are lives, right here and now, that require that attention (symbolic parenthood).
The strangest reply I get to this question is that people want (or "just want") their genes or themselves to continue. This is a strange idea and also an unjustified moral one: There's many things we "want" but what good reasons do we have for wanting them? That is, what’s so essential about our genes that the world needs (more of) it? Legacy is written into our actions, not our blood. Genes of course have some foundation for what kind of person, and therefore, what kind of actions we will have in the world; but that is not morally relevant to the decision on the moral obligation to adopt children. After all, what matters is symbolic parenthood, not genetic.
There is no good reason to create children, when adopting a child can cater for the needs and desires of parents – aside from the morally irrelevant desire to see one’s genes spread.
More importantly, by doing so, in many instances, we are able to help existing children who actually are capable of suffering and joy – unlike potential children who, by definition, do not exist. There is no one being skipped over in your decision to adopt, since your potential offspring do not exist. If no one is being skipped over in your decision to not have children, but someone would be skipped over if you did have children, then the answer seems obvious: we ought, in every instance, to adopt a child since these children actually exist.
No doubt many will reply that adoption is difficult; many people won’t pass the strict adoption laws. I will summarise my reply with a question: If you are unable to adopt, because you are deemed unfit as a parent, doesn’t that give you even more reason not to create a child? And secondly, what’s so essential about breeding that gives you justification to do so? It is particularly this second point that troubles me, since I have yet to find a satisfying answer.
Finally, many might say that if we all did this, the human species would go extinct. According to some estimates, this is going to occur anyway. And, what is wrong with human extinction in general anyway? Pragmatically, it's unlikely many people will adopt my position (ignore the pun) anyway - but those few who do, will no doubt be making a great and good impact on existing people.
If an important aspect of moral action is to try make better lives for more people, or to remove unnecessary suffering, surely the focus should be on existing people - like orphans - who require our love and attention? The non-existent children who so many yearn for by definition don't exist, whereas, right now there is someone who does and could use symbolic parenthood in his or her life.
Further thoughts: Ben and Michael from The Brain Exchange Podcast discuss this article in their second episode, available here.
Image Credit: STILLFX/Shutterstock
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A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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