February 26, 2024

No more kids anywhere, ever, is rational and compassionate, says bioethicist

In the late 1960s Paul Ehrlich warned of the coming population bomb and advocated zero population growth. This became almost an article of religious belief in some circles. Sixty years later attention has shifted from limiting the population to eliminating it.

One of the leading theorists of human extinction is the Finnish philosopher Matti Häyry. He has been mulling over the pros and cons of allowing humankind to flourish on Planet Earth for at least 20 years. His recent retrospective in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics is an interesting insight into a controversial, not to say incendiary, theory. He explains:

Antinatalism is an emerging philosophy and I am an antinatalist philosopher—or, at least, I think I am. Being antinatalist means, to me, that I do not have children, I do not intend to have children, and I would be pleased if everyone acted like me in this respect…

I would be pleased to see no one to have children, because that would be a rational thing to do. Reproduction carries risks to the possible future individuals. All lives are occasionally miserable, some lives are predominantly miserable, and individuals may think, justifiably, that their lives have no meaning. My reason suggests that it would be unwise and unkind to bring new people into existence and thereby expose them to these risks. Arthur Schopenhauer agreed with me, many others have disagreed.

Häyry is not a philosopher king, merely a philosopher. He has no desire to impose his views on others. He describes his approach as “conflict-responsive need-based negative utilitarianism” and says that he wants “to be kind and not to be unkind”.

Some of his considerations deserve to be quoted:

  • Since reproduction would inflict suffering on the future individuals and their offspring, it is kindest not to bring them into existence.
  • Although reproduction may bring joy to breeders, balancing the joy against the suffering inflicted tips the scales in favor of abstinence.
  • Since blaming-and-shaming breeders makes them suffer, using it as a tactic is not kind and should be balanced with other factors.
  • When breeders celebrate their children, it would be unkind and probably counterproductive to curb their joy.
  • It would be unkind to force breeders to abstain. It is unkind to manipulate new beings into accepting the breeders’ morality.