The need to breed: reproductive licensing

Paul Raven @ 15-10-2010

Kyle Munkittrick’s at it again over at Discover‘s Science Not Fiction blog, this time raising an ethical question that has intrigued me ever since I encountered it in an assortment of science fiction stories and novels as a teenager: should the right to reproduce be subject to licensing*?

Cue knee-jerk horror and accusations of fascism-by-the-back-door… but Munkittrick makes some points worth considering. First of all, we already have a limited form of licensing with respect to child-rearing: adoption.

If you can have children naturally, you’re free to have as many as you want and basically do what you want with them. The only exceptions are parents so horrible that the state steps in and takes them away. If you can’t or don’t want to have children naturally, then not only do you have to go through the difficult and complex processes of adoption and/or ARTs, you have to be approved to do so. It’s double-damage on the equality front. Our society, it would seem, unconsciously believes “If you’re naturally able to have kids, then it’s OK for you to have kids. But if you aren’t able to naturally have kids, there might be something else wrong with you, and you should be investigated.” That kind of mindset is wrong – your ability to have kids is not an indicator your ability to take care of them.

He goes on to point out that all that’s realistically needed is a test of basic competence, just like you take to get a driving license:

Just as it is reasonable to have a person in charge of a car take a class and a few tests to make sure they’re capable, it is reasonable to have a person who will be in charge of a new life take a few tests to make sure they’re capable. You didn’t have to be Dale Earnhart, Jr. to get your drivers license; you won’t have to be Ward Cleaver to get your parenting license. You had to be able to merge into traffic, parallel park, and negotiate a four way stop; by the same logic, every child deserves a minimally competent parent.

The main problem that I can see is that by setting up a framework intended to screen only for basic competence, you’re leaving a legacy system to the politicians of the future which could be tweaked and adjusted for more fascistic ideological purposes. Not to mention the fact that any bureaucratic system of the complexity required to license parenting in a country the size of the UK would inevitably be highly susceptible to gaming, fraud and bribery…

Ultimately I’m somewhat hesitant to pick sides on this particular issue, despite what seems to me the very logical appeal of the idea; this is because I have no intention of ever having children, and as such I can’t fully understand the incredibly powerful emotional responses that parenthood – and, in some sad cases, the inability to achieve parenthood – engenders in people. How can I deny someone else the right to do something that I’ve never wanted to do?

That said, the logic seems fairly clear to me: surely the worst thing that we could do to any child is allow it to be raised by parents either unwilling or incapable of caring for it properly? As Munkittrick points out, almost anyone can conceive a child, but evidence suggests that not everyone can raise one. So whose rights must take primacy – the right of every human being to reproduce if they’re able and willing, or the right of every child to be raised responsibly? Given that the child doesn’t get a choice about whether it gets born or not, I see it as being the underdog in the equation, and hence more deserving of protection.

Where do you folk stand on this one? Particularly interested in input from parents, would-be or actual.

[ * I feel Julian May’s Galactic Milieu books dealt rather well with this issue, in that she was careful to simply portray such a system in action, warts and all, good and bad, without passing any authorial judgement on its ethical validity. Recommendations of other stories or novels that deal with similar subjects would be most welcome! ]


Military kids to be issued virtual stand-ins while parents on deployment

Paul Raven @ 10-01-2009

soldier and babyOK, file under “hearts in the right place, brains possibly not”: the US military has noted that having parents away from their kids a long time on active duty (and hence not exactly able to call home regularly) probably isn’t so great for the kids’ well-being. [image by SoldiersMediaCenter]

Their potential solution? Virtual parental avatars powered by chatbots. Here’s a snippet from the DoD’s solicitation for proposals:

“The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, everyday topics,” the solicitation says. “For instance, a child may get a response from saying, ‘I love you,’ or ‘I miss you,’ or ‘Good night mommy/daddy.’ This is a technologically challenging application because it relies on the ability to have convincing voice-recognition, artificial intelligence, and the ability to easily and inexpensively develop a customized application tailored to a specific parent.”

So many potential responses, so little time… I guess I’m mostly surprised that it was thought up as a request from the DoD rather than at a DARPA coffee-break bull session.

Also – how many old sf stories does this sound like? I’m sure I remember a PKD short featuring something very similar. [via Gizmodo; tip-off from the Whitechapel Massive]


First full ovary transplant patient completes successful pregnancy

Paul Raven @ 13-11-2008

The headline says it all – after ten years of research and testing, we have the first child born successfully after its mother received a full ovary transplant. The doctor who carried out the procedure is now suggesting that young girls have one of their ovaries removed and frozen in case they need it later in life. [both links via FuturePundit]

It amazing how quickly we’re adopting the idea of ‘banking’ parts of ourselves in case of future need; it implies an understanding of the body as a biological machine, which may be why some religions find it so morally repugnant.

But religion aside, the story above brings up another contentious question – if fertility is no longer a barrier to carrying a child to term, how old is too old for a woman to become a mother? Is it merely an issue of physical suitability, or are there psychological and social implications for a child raised by parents that we would currently consider to be of grandparenting age?


THE BABY WINDOW by Vincent VanAllen

Jeremy Lyon @ 30-03-2006

Vincent VanAllen’s new story is an absurdist poke in the eye for egotistical super-parents.

[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]

The Baby Window

by Vincent VanAllen

Journal of Prenatal Psychology & Health
2016 Jul;105(1):44-57.
Artificially accelerated fetal development in Homo sapiens: what is the role of the baby window?

Authors: Ripley R.C., Hess N.J.

I. IMPLANTATION: The search for a guinea pig

Child psychologist Norman Hess clasped his hands and dropped to a knee. “Angela, please. Just think about watching our baby grow inside your womb, right before our eyes!”

“It doesn’t seem safe,” Angela said. She was six weeks pregnant with their first child, and already Norman insisted on treating the baby like another one of his lab experiments. “What if there’s an infection or something? I don’t know. It just seems so unnatural.” Continue reading “THE BABY WINDOW by Vincent VanAllen”