[ LETTER ]

Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - Page 8

Motherhood and choice

In her letter to the Taipei Times, Claire Yeh suggests that motherhood is her mission in life (Letters, Dec. 4, page 8). She describes her pleasure in the sensation of being pregnant, and enjoys reflecting on “the life-giving mystery of a mother’s womb.” It seems she has become a mother in the most fortunate of circumstances. It also seems she is not capable of imagining the lives of women less fortunate than her.

No one is more qualified to judge if they should have a child than the people most directly affected. Yeh forgets that women do not make decisions about pregnancy alone; men share their wives’ desire to limit births. She also does not consider that some women become pregnant through incest or rape. Many more live in constant struggle and insecurity, and face motherhood without a loving spouse or a wider family that respects and values them. Women under severe stress are less likely to use birth control effectively. Using the law to impose a one-size-fits-all morality on others does more harm than good. If we want a humane society, we must respect people’s judgement about their circumstances.

In modern societies, motherhood has become a choice. This frees women to define their mission in life according to their convictions and interests, and to contribute to society as doctors, artists, engineers and scientists.

With climate change a certainty, natural disasters are sure to increase. Every additional child born into this world comes at a great cost to the environment and to future generations. Perhaps people should have to justify having children, rather than have to defend their right not to have them.

Some people bring children into the world without thinking, because it is what others expect, or because they are worried what others will think if they don’t. Some want a little copy of themselves, a “mini-me.” Others want children as a defense against their fear of mortality, or as a guarantee of security in old age. There are other options: Adopt children who do not have parents, and who need education and opportunity. Use immigration to achieve demographic balance in aging societies, and a better distribution of resources around the world. Develop adequate retirement systems for everyone. Insisting on a child that is genetically your own and putting “blood” relatives ahead of others is selfishness disguised as morality.

Yeh asks: “If we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell people not to kill one another?” The answer is simple: Make a realistic distinction between people who are already born and people who are not. Personhood — including the capacity for suffering, which is more than just physical pain — requires awareness of others and a sense of self, a social identity. This is the traditional, pragmatic Chinese view. Traditional Chinese medical texts consistently prioritized the life of the mother over that of her unborn child.

Climate change and overpopulation will intensify competition for food, water and fuel. These — not abortion — will cause armed conflicts in the future. To ensure the sanctity of life, we should have fewer children and take better care of the people who are already here.

S.L. Pfeiffer

Taipei