“The New Yorker” recently published a book review article by Elizabeth Kolbert titled “The Case Against Kids”, with the provocative subtitle, “Is procreation immoral?”
In her article, Kolbert describes the ideas of David Benatar. Benatar teaches philosophy at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He is the author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, in which, according to Wikipedia
he argues that coming into existence is a serious harm, regardless of the feelings of the existing being once brought into existence, and that, as a consequence, it is always morally wrong to create more sentient beings. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Benatar)
I had never heard of Benatar before coming across Kolbert’s article and have certainly never read anything he has written. I am only familiar with Kolbert’s version of Benatar’s ideas.
According to Kolbert, Benatar argues that if a couple has a genetic disease that indicates the likelihood that, in the event they procreate, they will bear a child who will suffer, they have a moral obligation to refrain from procreation.
Benatar’s argument against procreation seems to suggest that suffering of any kind is the greatest evil known to humankind and must be avoided at all costs.
In church last Sunday during the sermon time, we had a report from two women who have just returned from Port-au-Prince in Haiti where they had been visiting Hope Home (http://www.cfchcanada.ca/the-work-of-the-foundation/hope-home.html).
Hope Home is home for Haitian children who suffer from multiple severe disabilities. These are children whose families are either completely unable, or simply unwilling, to look after them. In many cases they have been rescued from the streets where they have been abandoned to die. By any definition, the children of Hope Home suffer profoundly.
Yet in picture after picture, we saw children with radiant smiles on their faces. These did not look like children who would have preferred never to have been born.
It is a terrible thing to suffer. But, looking at the smiling faces of severely disabled Haitian children, it is difficult to imagine that any of them would have chosen never to exist rather than experiencing the life they presently live.
In our attempts to create a world free of pain, we risk losing the enriching reality of the lessons suffering has to offer. When we suffer, or when we enter deeply into the suffering of others, we have the opportunity to grow in patience and compassion. Suffering, our own or the suffering of others, has the capacity to open our hearts to deeper human realities and to enrich the depth of human community.
When our motto is “Please don’t suffer”, we will always be diminished by a sanitized painless existence, if such an existence were ever possible.
Once society heads down the road of abolishing suffering, there is no end to the determination to eliminate difficulties. Where do we stop? Is any discomfort acceptable? What lengths will we sanction to eliminate the possibility of disagreeable experiences? Should any unpleasantness in life be tolerated, or must we strive to abolish the slightest annoyance? What kind of community would it be that was able to alleviate absolutely all hardship?