(Zolan Istvan) Given the number of children that starve each day, dwindling planetary resources and the coming transhumanist era, it might be time to consider restricting human breeding, argues futurist Zoltan Istvan in this guest post.
A few years ago, I was at a doctor party, the kind where tired residents drop by in their scrubs, everyone drinks red wine, and discussion centres around medical industry gripes. I wandered over to a group of obstetricians and listened in. One tall blonde woman said something that caught my attention: with 10,000 kids dying everyday around the world from starvation, you’d think we’d put birth control in the water.
The controversial idea to restrict or control human breeding is not new. In 1980, Hugh LaFollette, Ethics professor at the University of South Florida, wrote a seminal essay on the topic titled Licensing Parents. Since then, philosophers and even some politicians have considered the idea, especially in light of China, the most populated country in the world, implementing a one-child policy that is in effect today.
For most people in the 21st Century, however, the idea of restricting the right to have offspring for any reason whatsoever seems blatantly authoritarian. Telling a person when and how many children they can have violates just about every core value we possess in a free society. It’s a thorny issue made even more complicated by the coming transhumanist era, which is almost upon us.
The transhumanist age — where radical science and technology will revolutionise the human being and experience — will eventually bring us indefinite lifespans, cyborgization, cloning, and even ectogenesis, where people use artificial wombs outside of their bodies to raise foetuses.
Breeding controls and measures make more sense when you consider that some leading life extensionist scientists believe we will conquer human mortality in the next 20 years. Already, in 2010, scientists had some success with stopping and reversing ageing in mice. The obvious question is: In this transhumanist future, should everyone still be allowed to have unlimited children whenever they want?
The philosophical conundrum of controlling human procreation rests mostly on whether all human beings are actually responsible enough to be good parents and can provide properly for their offspring. Clearly, untold numbers of children — for example, those millions that are slaves in the illegal human trafficking industry — are born to unfit parents.
In an attempt to solve this problem and give hundreds of millions of future kids a better life, I cautiously endorse the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s licence. Parents who pass a series of basic tests qualify and get the green light to get pregnant and raise children. Those applicants who are deemed unworthy — perhaps because they are homeless, or have drug problems, or are violent criminals, or have no resources to raise a child properly and keep it from going hungry — would not be allowed until they could demonstrate they were suitable parents.
Transhumanist Hank Pellissier, founder of the Brighter Brains Institute, also supports the idea, insisting on humanitarian grounds that it would bring a measured sense of responsibility to raising kids. In an essay, he notes professor and bioethics pioneer Joseph Fletcher saying that “many births are accidental”. Accidentally getting pregnant often leaves women unable to pursue their careers and lives as they might’ve hoped for and wanted.
Naturally, some environmentalists, such as American educator Paul L Ehrlich, author of landmark book The Population Bomb, also advocate for government intervention to control human population, which would be one sure way to help the planet’s fragile and depleted ecosystems.
One of the most comprehensive works about the idea of restricting breeding is Peg Tittle’s book Should Parents be Licensed? Debating the Issues. It’s a balanced collection of essays by experts with various views on the subject.
There’s no question that some of the ideas of licensing parents make sense. After all, we don’t allow people to drive cars on crack cocaine. Why would we allow them to procreate if they want while on it? The goal with licensing parents is not so much to restrict freedoms, but to guarantee the maximum resources to those children that exist and will exist in the future.
Of course, the problem is always in the details. How could society monitor such a licensing process? Would governments force abortion upon mothers if they were found to be pregnant without permission? These things seem unimaginable in most societies around the world. Besides, who wants the government handling human breeding when it can’t do basic things like balance its own budgets and stay out of wars? Perhaps a nonprofit entity like the World Health Organisation might be able to step in and offer more confidence.
I see near-term hope in what can be called a new transhuman-inspired birth control device originally developed at MIT and now backed by funding from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The implanted microchip lasts for up to 16 years — three times current implantable devices, including IUDs — and can deliver hormones into the body via an on-off switch on your mobile phone. It’s not a huge jump to imagine governments seeing opportunity in using this. Many children born into poverty end up costing taxpayers billions. Sadly, a high percentage of those same kids will end up on the streets, in gangs, or in prison after they become adults. Just as legalisation of abortion has helped drive down crime rates, licensing parents would likely have the same effect.
The approximate 10,000 starving child deaths a day that that the aforementioned doctor cited come from various reports and studies, all of which point to the fact that well over 50 million kids have died due to hunger and malnutrition in the last 30 years. That’s a lot of kids.
What’s more, 15 percent of kids in the US — the supposed wealthiest country in the world — suffer from hunger. A large portion of them are born to families that don’t have the resources to properly raise a child. After all, if you can’t feed a child, you probably shouldn’t have one. Licensing would’ve restricted many of those births until the parents were more able to deal with the challenges of procreation, which is undoubtedly the most intense and serious long term responsibility most human beings will face in their lives.
As a liberty-loving person, I have always eschewed giving up any freedoms. However, in some cases, the statistics are so overwhelming, that at the very least, given the coming era of indefinite lifespans and transhumanist technology, we must remain open-minded to consider how best to move the species forward to produce the happiest and healthiest children for the planet. Anything less will leave us with millions more preventable deaths and incalculable suffering of innocent kids.