Thinking about people who don’t exist is hard to do. The most emotional response I received yesterday was:
> I’m not disagreeing that there is some benefit to society when there are fewer people with severe problems, and I’m not saying I would never do something like select not to have a child with severe problems if given a choice (my husband and I talked about that when we were going through fertility treatments), I am saying that categorically saying at a societal level that those people should never exist is terrifying. And by saying that those people should never exist because their life would be too hard does in effect say that I should not exist
It seems to be what a lot of people get hung up on, because it’s very hard to imagine the counter-factual world where these people weren’t born. It’s the same argument used by every pro-lifer who trots out the adorable/smart/loving child of a mother who struggled with the abortion question but ultimately decided against it, saying “Pro-choicers say that this child should never have existed!” It works because we see a valuable person (as all person are valuable) and think “if they were aborted they wouldn’t exist” and emotionally this feels like saying “They shouldn’t exist” = “Kill that girl!!! Chaaaaarge!!!!” Which makes us squirm at the very least, if we are good people.
But when a biological process is stopped or prevented before a person can form, it is not the killing of a person. It is simply replacing them with another person. (I won’t even get into whether the planet can support a limited number of people – it’s more relevant to note that any given couple can only support a limited number of children. So choosing to bring one child into existence is denying life to another child that would have been born in their stead. The egg that released the month prior or after, perhaps.) And since almost nothing can be known of someone before they are born, in the aggregate it’s most accurate to think of the potential future-children of any given couple as undifferentiated entities. The replacing-person is best modeled as the same as the replaced-person EXCEPT for the things that can be known about them before they are brought into existence. If a genetic test shows that the egg released this month will give you a child with blue eyes, and the egg released next month will give a child with brown eyes, the question is not “Should we murder the child with the blue eyes or the child with brown eyes?” Because it is impossible to birth both of them. The question is more accurately modeled as “Do we want a baby Eneasz (or baby Steph) with blue eyes or brown eyes?” Think of the two potential children as the same potential person, differing only in the characteristics that can be determined beforehand. Thus, the question isn’t “Should we murder Mary Sue with Downs Syndrome to birth non-Downs Sally May?” it is “Should we birth Mary Sue with or without Downs Syndrome?” In which case the answer is sorta obvious.
(When taken far enough, the inability to correctly think of persons who haven’t come into existence as substitutes for persons who have, results in the conclusion that any attempt to prevent a pregnancy is morally equivalent to murder, and condoms/birth-control are history’s greatest holocaust. And, indeed, any effort to do anything with one’s resources aside from maximizing the total number of people who are born is morally reprehensible.)
And if one accepts that such a program doesn’t kill people, it only makes the people who are born better off, it means that – as hard as it is to imagine – in the counter-factual world where such a program had been around when we’d been born we’d be healthier, smarter, and have had happier childhoods. Not that we’d be dead.