While I had hoped to avoid writing about the mother of the octuplets, I’ve decided to yield to the temptation.
In various discussions, people have suggested that there “ought to be a law” to prevent such things from happening in the future. I’ll be focusing on this issue.
One of the best arguments for having laws limiting reproduction is that the state is sometimes called upon to support such children. For example, the mother of the octuplets is relying on public aid to take care of her children. In such cases, it could be argued that if the state (that is, the taxpayers) is expected to provide support for such children, then the state would have the right to limit reproduction in such cases. One could even argue that by being cast into a provider role, the state also takes on some parental rights-including the right to make decisions regarding reproduction.
One obvious concern is that a law based on the financial well being of the parent(s) would discriminate against the poor and this might be regarded as unjust. Naturally, concerns about racism would no doubt be raised in regard to such a law (because of the association of poverty with certain minorities).
Of course, it could be argued that a general law should be put in place limiting reproduction. This would avoid the charges of discrimination based on income (but might lead to other charges of discrimination).
One problem for such a law is the general concern about having the state “interfere” with the family. Having the state limit reproduction in this manner would seem to be a harsh intrusion into the private concerns of citizens (although the state often engages in such harsh intrusions). The right to reproduce can be seen as a very basic right and one that the state should not interfere with.
Another problem with such a law is that there would seem to be no justification for such a restriction (at least in the United States) once the financial aspect is removed. After all, we do not have an over population problem here (yet).
My view is that no such general law is needed.
First, having a law restricting reproduction would be reasonable if the problem the law is intended to solve is common and serious enough to warrant such regulation. While the octuplet case has stirred up emotions, one rather important fact is that this case is a rather rare event. That is, after all, why it has been such a news sensation. This raises the obvious question: is the problem significant and serious enough to warrant a law? The answer seems to be “no.” While the news coverage makes the event seem significant and important, one incident hardly justifies creating such a law.
Second, there seem to be adequate motivating forces that incline people not to over do their reproduction. For example, most people do not want huge families. As such, there seems to be little compelling reason to create a law to restrict reproduction. After all, why create a law to deter behavior that is already effectively deterred?
Of course, I do need to address the concern that got this started in the first place: what about the fact that the state will probably be paying support for the octuplets?
This is, of course, a reasonable concern. On one hand, the state should not pay for the kids. After all, the mother intentionally chose to have them and was quite aware of her lack of employment. As such, it would be hard to argue that the state is obligated to take care of her children. There is, of course, some evidence that she expected to make money (a book deal, interviews, and employment) because of the kids. But expecting such a windfall is hardly responsible. The state’s job is not to bail people out of bad decisions. Then again, perhaps that is the state’s job these days.
On the other hand, the kids are innocent parties in this situation and it would certainly seem heartless and wrong to let them go without support. Children are, to engage in some hyperbole, perfect hostages that all but guarantee that the state will hand over money and services. This fact shows another problem with having a law to limit reproduction: what sort of punishment should be imposed on those who break it? Obviously, the kids should not be punished. Jailing parents would require that the state take care of the kids. Imposing fines would effectively make the law discriminate against the poor. Sterilizing the parents would create a furor. Perhaps there is a way to work out an effective punishment system, but that seems rather challenging.
Fortunately, there seems to be little reason to work out such a system. While the state will have to pick up the tab in some cases, there are (as noted above) already sufficient deterrents in place that already limit reproduction in the United States. Some cynical folks might contend that having children is punishment enough for most people.
My main point is, of course, that we should not let one extreme case push us towards creating needless laws and restrictions.