We think it is morally permissible, perhaps even admirable, for loving and caring parents to bring new children into the world. To the contrary, I argue that it is often wrong to create children. There are an estimated 16 million orphaned children in the world in need of the same love and care. Given this orphan crisis, there is a weighty pro tanto duty to adopt children that is not defeated by reasons parents may have to prefer children of their own. In many cases it is morally wrong to have our own (biological) children when we could adopt needy children instead.
The orphan crisis is structurally similar to standard duty to rescue cases: a moral innocent stands to lose a critical life benefit, which some agent can provide at no comparable cost to herself. This scenario generates a duty of the agent to rescue the victim. To defend this analogy, I examine possible differences between the cases, including: the presence of one unique victim and one unique rescuer versus multiple victims and rescuers, rescue in a unique emergency or a chronic deprivations case, and one-time rescue cases versus iterative rescue cases. I conclude that the differences are not relevant to the generation of a duty to rescue. Thus, there is a duty to rescue in the orphan crisis. Orphaned children are rescued through adoption. Therefore, there is a duty to adopt orphans.
This duty has strong pro tanto strength; it is genuine but it may be overridden or defeated by other considerations, including the cost of adoption to prospective adopters. Though pro tanto in strength, the duty to adopt has a high cost threshold; we are required to take on substantial burden to meet the critical needs of others. Even so, I note that the cost of adoption may be too great for those people who would prefer to have no children at all. The comparative cost burden for those who would become parents is significantly smaller. I focus on prospective parents as the target of the duty to adopt. The rest of the dissertation is an examination of the costs of adoption rather than creation.
Next I examine the reasons we have for creating new children for their sake. Even if we can benefit a person by bringing her into existence, we have stronger moral reason in cases of conflict to rescue an existing needy person in peril. I defend the following principle: we ought to make needy people happy rather than make happy people. That is, it is more important that we meet critical needs deprivations than that we ensure non-critical increases in well-being. Adoption meets critical needs; procreation is at best a non-critical increase in well-being. In short, the first kind of creation reason—for the child's sake—is not capable of defeating the duty to adopt.
I then consider the reasons prospective parents have in favor of creating children, focusing primarily on the interests prospective biological parents have for children of their own. First, I concede that we have moral options, the permission to favor our subjectively valued interests and projects over the urgent needs of others. While none of the parental interests may equal the urgency of orphans' needs, insofar as they are related to an agent's projects, they may ground a moral option to fail to adopt a child (rather than create). The interests prospective parents have in a child of their “own” include: an interest in family resemblance, psychological similarity with the child, to cement a romantic union with one's partner, for the sake of immortality, as a reproductive “right,” and for the experience of pregnancy. I conclude that all but the last interest fail to ground a moral option. Thus, generally, prospective parents' reasons to create children fail to defeat the duty to adopt.
Finally, I discuss the socially-contingent, financial, legal and logistical costs of adoption. Many of these putative costs fail to defeat the duty to adopt given the high cost threshold. Adoptions of older-age children or children with special needs may present an exception. I conclude that the orphan problem generates both obligations of individual morality as well as collective, institutional obligations to remove those obstacles that impede our rescue of orphans and to remedy the social conditions leading to child relinquishment. Recognizing our institutional obligations is critical, however, it is no substitute for fulfilling our individual obligations as rescuers of orphaned children through adoption.