Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So the Duggars announced they're having child number nineteen. I am less than thrilled with this, although the general consensus appears to be elation among those who watch the family's show. Disclaimer- I don't watch their show, what I know of them comes from their website and other outside sources, but not their show. We don't have cable, I refuse to pay for TV.

This news and the reaction to it has really gotten me thinking. As an ecologist, nineteen children is anathema to my understanding. That's not ecologically responsible. We are close to or are already past the number of humans that can sustainably live on this planet. Don't believe me? Read How Many People Can the Earth Support? by Joel Cohen. Check out the Population Reference Bureau. Plenty of other sources, let me know if you're interested and I can provide you some starting material.

But the Duggars make their own soap, grow vegetables, buy used when possible, so the popular thought is that the live a more eco-concious life than most people, and thus have a smaller ecological footprint, right? I heartily disagree, personally. Plus the argument is that having children is a right, and no one should stand in the way of that right.

Contrast this thinking with Nadya Suleman, of octuplet fame earlier this year. She gave birth to eight children in one stay in labor and delivery, and is hated by many of the same people that love the Duggars. What are the differences? Well, for one, Nadya is single. And poor. And used IVF to have her children. I've heard plenty of times that Nadya had no right to have those children, which added to her six already made a total of fourteen kids.

So are children a right or aren't they? Rights are not earned by one's wealth, so the critical difference shouldn't be economic status- rights are rights. The right to parent also shouldn't depend on marital status. Few people say unwed teens have no right to be parents, and the LGBT groups are gaining the right to parent in lots of states. So that's not the critical difference. Both the Duggars and Nadya claim that all of their children are wanted and loved, and both are making money off of their children through marketing books, interviews and television, so those things are the same. Nadya has been criticised as being an unfit parent, but the Duggars pair children up to have the older ones raise the younger, and I don't see that proving to be "parentally fit", besides "fitness" as a parent is very much a subjective term, so that shouldn't decide who gets to have children and who doesn't. Nadya's children are all via IVF, and I have heard more than enough comments about "if you can't reproduce, you shouldn't" to last a lifetime. A large number of US citizens need help to conceive, so I would hope we were past this idea of ability equaling right. It could be a combination of all of these things, but I don't like any of them. Either procreation is a right or it isn't- you don't get to assign qualifiers to rights.

Which brings me to something else that has been wandering around in my head. Baby College is a program in Harlem for low income children. The program aims to give these children the best start that it can, and includes parenting classes, preschool, kindergarten, and charter schools to the children who's parent's stick with it. It's to level the playing field between low income children and middle/upper income children academically, so they have a chance to compete in the college and career world. One key point- the program is designed to get the *children* out of poverty, not the parents. It asks that the parents accept that they have to put their children first, ahead of their own wants. Save for college instead of buying a big TV. Pay for a tutor, not a bigger car. Really things that all parents should be expected to do, because isn't that our job as parents? To put our children first? Doesn't that include leaving an environmental legacy of conscientious resource use, and not abuse? Doesn't that include trying to ensure that our children have a sound environment to enjoy, and to provide them with clean air, water, and food? Why is the message of putting your children first OK for the poor, but not the rich? Children have a right to a sustainable future, and rights do not come with qualifiers.


  1. very interesting comparison. personally, i think that we should all be shrinking our families, meaning there is two of us so we should only leave one. of course, this is not going to be helpful come social security time but i was never planning on seeing that anyways.

  2. Thanks for a good read. I'm amazed to managed to catch the thought on paper/in cyber space. The right to have children juxtaposed to the idea of getting a "parenting license" is interesting.

  3. What an interesting comparison of Nadya Suleman and the Duggars. Definitely some food for thought. Is the bias based on class or reproductive ability?