The Hoover Institute's Jennifer Roback Morse argues today that there is no absolute "right" to have a baby. This is a very slippery slope to be on, but (unlikein a classical "slippery slope" scenario) the slope slips in several directions.
On the one hand, it can be argued that there is an absolute right to have a child, and that this is a fundamental right. This is dangerous ground on which to tread. Certainly, there are some individuals to whom this right is assumed to be denied: for example, very young minors. But what of the single woman who has no steady income who can barely support herself: does she have the right to have a baby? Or the incarcerated criminal: does he? And the family consisting of a drunken husband and his crack-addicted wife: do they have this right?
But on the other hand, does the government have the right to regulate this amonhst people? Should the government impose a childbirth limit, as in China? Should the government be able to step in to force an insemination clinic to inseminate a lesbian when they have moral objections to doing so?
A general "no" answer can't be applied to all these questions, but answering "yes" as a rule is also disastrous. Guadalupe Benitez, the woman mentioned by Morse in her article, is suing the donor clinic that denied her insemination. If the courts rule on this case, we may be faced with unfavorable answers to some or all of these questions that I've posed. Answering no to any of the first set of questions will certainly open the gates for "yes" answers to the second set (the last question in this set is actually implied by the other two). On the other hand, is it really a good idea to demand that government not step in at all in the case of the first set of questions, for fear of it grabbing authority to do that suggested in the second set?
The best answer here therefore is more complicated than the simplest. People are not entitled to have babies of their own, and it is certainly not a fundamental right. In the cases presented by affirming the first set of questions, the rights of the child are dismissed, and he or she becomes mere property. This is, in some sense, related to my earlier post about the relevance of the soul to humans: the soul is the source of human dignity, which in turn implies the necessity of human rights. Treating a person as property disregards this dignity (and therefore these rights). However, government intervention would more likely than not force an abortion upon the first and third cases, thus disregarding the most fundamental of human rights: the right to life.
So what is the sane, logical means of resolving these problems? First, government and society must recognize a simple biological fact: it takes two people, one man and one woman, to bring a human life into this world. This element must be considered as a criterion for the "priviliege" of having a child. Certainly, in the case of sper donor clinics, the doctors working in the clinic should be allowed to judge whether they believe that their patient should be allowed for "treatment." This simply goes back to the argument of the rights of store owners or workers to refuse non-vital services. This is doubly true when considering that the doctors at the said clinic are effectively acting as a substitute for the male element of the biological criterion.
In an ideal society, the biological criterion would mean more than than the mere existence of a male and a female at some point in the process. Rather, both would then be committed to raising the child through adulthood. Now, this is a clear idealization, and cannot be realized even in an ideal society (due to circumstance such as the death of one or both parents). However, it is only common sense that this should be considered as a part of the criterion.
Another consideration is economic status. The person who cannot possibly afford to support a child should not have that child. This also makes sense: if a person can't feed his or her child, then he or she is compromising that child's right to live, or a part of that right. This is again true for the case of an abusive parent: the child's rights to life and liberty are being partially of fully compromised.
Finally, there are the "special" cases. The alcoholic or drug-addicted mother, or the incestruos parents, are compromising a child's rights as well, by giving undue developmental stresses that may partially or fully endanger the child's right to life through risking deformities or handicaps that tend to occur in these situations.
Ultimately, I suspect, a true, "broad" solution cannot be applied. The best course of action would be to consider cases on an individual basis. The government can't mandate that a person not get pregnant via the natural means, and even if it could there would be no way to enforce such a law. Further, government mandated abortions are a cruel solution, curing the disease by killing the patient. However, intervention may take place in extreme cases by taking the child away from his or her parents. We see this applied in some cases today, as in cases of abuse. The government can also make sperm donor clinics illegal, or place controls on them, or allow for the staff of such clinics to make moral judgements as they see fit. A perfect solution? No. But a better one than would be handed down to us by attempting to answer the problem in broad terms.
*Note: most of this actually applies to allowing people to have a child in the sense of allowing them to have a child that they otherwise wouldn't have had, ie via adoption or via pregnancy after entering these circumstances. Once a person is pregnant, everything should be done to allow the child to be born healthy, and to live his or her life; however, in some cases some form of community or government intervention is, unfortunately, needed. The best course is for community, ie family and close friends, to step in to intervene positively. This can be done by contributing financial support in the case of the need for it (not via the government, however); by helping with counselling for the alcoholc or drug-addicted person; and in the most extreme cases, by taking the child away.
**The best case scenario is that the courts will remain wisely silent on these issues, but I suspect that is too much to hope for.
***The government, for its part, needs to stop financing the single women who go out and get themselves pregnant. These people should rely on the community for support, as guaranteed government assistance only seems to encourage some women to get pregnant for the free ride. If the parent can't support her child, the government should take him or her away and put him or her up for adoption; this would effectively have the government fulfilling the same role that it already fulfills in supporting children until adulthood, while not encouraging single women who want a fre ride in life to get pregnant. I say this in spite of my strong dislike of having the government interfere in much of anything, especially of raising children.
****I will be addressing the last note in a future post on, of all things, the Church.