Solving the Too Many People Problem: Contraception vs. No More Practice of Medicine? Take Your Pick
Dr. Erich Loewy, a physician-ethicist, who has written to this blog in the past, wrote the following to a bioethics listserv regarding considerations for control of the progression of current and further over-population of our planet. He gave me permission to post his comment here.
I personally would claim that what has caused a large number of our problems both in the US as, and especially, in developing nations is that there are simply too many of us. China used to have a severe famine every few years. No doubt there are many causes as to why the Chinese no longer have these famines but one of the chief ones is that the birth rate was too high. Their one child policy has effectively given a chance to their people's ability not to have to face famine every few years. The argument will be made (and there is, of course, something to it) that this is an incursion in people's autonomy and "rights"--that is they have a claim to speak to a question and how it affects others and the community. However in my viewpoint it is a rather weak claim. The fact that the world is overpopulated is hardly a figment of the imagination and it undoubtedly is one of the main causes why millions of deaths per year, occur; not only in China but in large parts of the so-called developing world as well as in the industrialized west and especially in the US where 25% of the people are hungry a large part of the year, the average income of a worker is $8.50/hour (which makes it very difficult for one person and impossible for a family) to do more than fulfill its most basic needs--and often not even these. I know that this is against the avowed principles of many churches more interested to produce many babies than worrying about what to do with them after birth--sort of a "let them be baptized and starve to death" attitude. I know that this is not politically correct--an idea which has made a virtue of disassembling.
In various dictatorships of the past century the desire to have children was made into a virtue. Those who have studied this era will remember the "Lebensborn"--institutions in which blond, tall and blue-eyed Aryans could sacrifice themselves to their Führer by going to bed with blond, blue eyed and tall SS men who likewise were performing a patriotic act for their Führer.
It is deeply ingrained in us that being pregnant is a cause for congratulations. In Nazi Germany with the murder of about six-million Jews, millions of Germans and citizens of other nations it is true that a large percentage of the pre-Hitler population had died. It is one way of handling the bath-tub problem: a problem which say that when the outflow from the bath-tub equals the inflow the amount of water remains the same. If the outflow (modern medicine) is decreased at the same time (fewer deaths, longer life) that the inflow is increased the bath-tub will overflow. It is then that we shall have wars, pestilence and other natural disasters. Does decreasing the number of children by fiat violate personal autonomy? Yes, of course it does. Does allowing people to have as many children as they want violate the survival and flourishing of the community? Yes, of course it does.
Having an increasing number of people is dangerous both for those who can and cannot afford it. Is it a basic violation of autonomy and an invasion of human rights---yes, it undoubtedly is. But if the community fails to flourish and eventually perishes, there is no possibility to speak of individual autonomy--there will be few left.
If we continue to hold every fertilized egg or implantation of such an egg co-equal with a happy carpenter or college student we are comparing some very different things. In early and probably until the mid-second trimester the developing fetus is not self-aware. How do I know this? Well in a future function that lacks a substrate and is, therefore, without the possibility of self-awareness, it seems almost ridiculous to hold it co-equal with a happy, functioning human being. We have the choice: (1) encourage more people not to use contraceptives and continuing the production of ever-increasing humans many of whom will starve to death or lead terrible lives; or (2) do all that is necessary to decrease our enormous birth rate.
Do I not respect the right of religions to do all they can not to use contraception? Yes, you are right, I do not respect any institution which makes a virtue out of producing babies fated to live miserably and cause their community to fail.
We are told by experts in the field of world populations that we cannot currently feed the world if we do not become vegetarians (which I would applaud but is another matter) and that even if we do we shall be unable to do so entirely. We have only two reasonable choices: (1) give up the practice of medicine except perhaps for palliation or (2) Decrease the world population even should that interfere with people's personal morality.
Dr Erich H. Loewy
Professor of Medicine and Founding Chair of Bioethics (emeritus)
Associate in Philosophy
University of California, Davis
It may be necessary for some to rethink the moral harm of contraception and balance it against the moral harm of the suffering of starving populations and all the other consequences of over-population of this planet. On the other hand.. as Dr. Loewy suggests, give up treating disease and thereby allowing nature to reduce the population. I don't think we want to go back to the Nazi method of population reduction. What is your thoughts on this subject? Can those of you who find contraception immoral, rethink your view or suggest some other way? ..Maurice.
GRAPHIC-Photograph from CorpoAlert, modified.