Nautilus

Parenthood, the Great Moral Gamble

I didn’t choose to have a child. Not if “choosing” means something rational—weighing pros and cons, coming to a conclusion. I tried that process but ran away from it because, even though I wanted a child, it seemed to me that creating a whole new person was such an enormity that no one could rationally decide to do such a thing. There is so much at stake, and so little certainty about the outcome. A child that I conceived might be happy, but he might be miserable beyond endurance. The child might bring happiness to others, or he might ruin people’s lives. It seemed to me that creating life was an act of astonishing hubris because it made me responsible, maybe morally responsible, for huge consequences. For most of our species’ history, we were spared that decision because procreation was not (for the most part) a choice, but merely something that happened to us. It was a biological destiny. We escaped that destiny when science gave us control over our fertility. But I wasn’t equal to the freedom that science gave me. Fearful of such an immense decision amid such uncertainty, I allowed myself to drift into parenthood instead of choosing it. I let other people’s expectations, the sheer normality of having children, construct a new, sociological destiny for me to replace the biological one and protect me from what seemed an impossible choice.

I was right to be concerned about my children’s uncertain future and unpredictable impact on the world. But was I right that the decision to create life was possibly blameworthy if things turned out badly? Here’s a line of thought that could have reassured me: Whether what I do is morally right or wrong doesn’t depend on the good or bad outcomes of my actions, because these outcomes are influenced by factors beyond my control. It depends instead on my intentions at the time of acting. However risky my actions might be in every other respect, I never face moral risk because I’m only answerable for my intentions and not for how things

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