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Is Procreation Inherently Immoral?

I have never had children. I have raised a child, a boy from my wife's first marriage; however, I have never created one of my own. It's not that I don't like children. It's just that I have never felt the need to project my genes down the corridors of time.

People sometimes ask me if I regret never having had any children of my own, and the answer is still "no". However, a related question has been niggling at me for some time: Is there any moral justification for having children in the first place? In other words, is procreation inherently immoral?

I haven't dared ask this of any of my friends and acquaintances for fear of their (probably intemperate) reaction. So to research the question myself, I entered "morality of having children" into an Internet search engine. I was disappointed by the results. Virtually all of answers added an extension to the question, e.g. "morality of having children if you are too poor to properly care for them", "the morality of having children if your country is over-populated", the "morality of having children if so doing would risk the life of the mother", and so on. But no one seemed prepared to grapple with the fundamental question itself. Is there any moral justification for having children, whatever the circumstances?

I am certain that other people must have thought about this; however, they seem to be keeping their opinions to themselves. Or perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the presumption of having children is so ingrained in the human psyche that asking such a question really hasn't occurred to anyone else. If this is the case, stand by to make history because here come my thoughts on the matter.

There are two fundamental ways of approaching the question, from the religious point of view of religion and the non-religious point of view.


Religious Aspects of Procreation Not being a religious scholar, I am going to limit this part of the discussion mainly to the Judeo-Christian concepts of religion. People brought up in the Judeo-Christian traditional all know about God's biblical injunction to "be fruitful and multiply". And we certainly have been doing so.

Human population growth over the past hundred years has been truly phenomenal. The world's population, which stood at only 2.5 billion in 1950, had doubled to 5 billion by 1990, and passed 6 billion just before the end of the century. As of March 2009, the estimated world population had already reached 6.8 billion. In other words, we have already added another 800 million souls in less than ten years.

People raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition are also aware of the biblical assertion that we are all born into sin and that this sin must be expiated. If we are successful in doing so, we ascend to eternal bliss in heaven. If not, we descend to eternal torment in hell.

Most Christians are convinced that their children will of course ascend to heaven. However, this is by no means certain; every soul that comes into the world must inexorably face the prospect of being cast down into hell. I know that Jesus is supposed to have died for our sins. I also know that unless we believe this and accept Him as our personal savior, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Clearly, not everyone believes this, which means that each day thousands of babies come into the world for whom heaven will be eternally barred and hell will be eternally open.

While most loving parents shudder at the thought of exposing their children any kind of physical danger, they seem perfectly willing to expose them to the greatest danger imaginable, eternal damnation. Can this possibly be moral?

Non-religious Aspects of Procreation

Suppose you don't believe the stories of heaven and hell. What then? Even if you don't take responsibility for a child's eternal well-being, you must still take responsibility for his temporal well-being. Once again, the prospects are disconcerting.

Even before he is born, a child faces the possibility of physical malformation, mental retardation, or congenital disease. In some parts of the world, the risk is very low; however, there is always a risk. Any loving parent would surely prevent a child from eating a piece of candy picked up off the ground for fear that it might make him ill. Yet the self-same loving parent perfectly willing to risk a lifetime of illness for the child by virtue of forcing him to be born.

As the child grows, he must constantly face the prospect of violence, war, poverty, oppression, drought, famine, pestilence, and the hundreds of other ills man is heir to. Even if he is lucky enough to escape all of these, he still must confront the aches, pains, feebleness of mind and body, and other distasteful attributes of old age, unless of course he is fortunate enough to die young.

In short, whether you are religious or not, the decision to procreate would seem to be an act of high insensitivity, if not actually immorality. To repeat, I have never created a child of my own. Given the foregoing considerations, I am not fully certain of what I feel about people who have created a child or children of their own; however, I am strongly leaning towards disapproval.

Because I am now in my seventh decade, the thought of procreating, while still technically feasible, would seem highly unadvisable. Instead, I am ineluctably thinking more and more about what I might wish to have inscribed on my tombstone. I haven't yet made up my mind, but I am leaning towards the following:

Dear God, if God there be, Know this to be my legacy, My sins were many, Yet blame I shun,
For I have never inflicted life on anyone.

Contributing Writer: Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium. His recently published book In the I of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional is available from Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium ( and Amazon ( For further information, contact: Philip Yaffe, Brussels, Belgium Tel: +32 (0)2 660 0405 Email: [email protected]


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