2006 May 09 Tuesday
Theodore Dalrymple: Growing Up British

Theodore Dalrymple, in real life Anthony Daniels - a psychiatrist who works in the British prison system, has an article in the City Journal about an 18 year old girl who had beat her elderly relative.

Her biography was sordid, but no more so than many others I had heard. Not only had she never met her father, but she had no idea who he might be. She and her half-sister—an alcoholic and a drug taker, conceived during a one-night stand—had been sexually abused by one of their passing stepfathers-cum-baby-sitters. Her mother was a drug addict who had once got into trouble after being caught working while claiming social security benefits.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She had to stop working.”

Her mother had been violent toward her two daughters, throwing them down the stairs and beating them with a baseball bat. (The ratio of bats to balls in Britain must be the highest in the world.) Her violence ceased when the daughters were old and strong enough to blacken her eyes and break her nose.

Read the whole article. Why should people such as these have a right to reproduce? I don't see it.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 May 09 05:15 PM  Civilizations Decay

Stephen said at May 9, 2006 6:42 PM:

Why should people such as these have a right to reproduce?

Presumably you're implying that the state should have been able to stop her mother from breeding? With all the Big Brother judgement and intervention that implies? Also, at what point would it have been appropriate to make a determination that the mother in the story should not be allowed to breed? Presumably not until some years after she was in fact a mother, at which point its too late.

If the story is to be believed (a big "If"), the real failure is that the child abuse detection systems failed to identify the abuse.

The story is a bit far fetched on a number of grounds:

  1. I find it difficult to imagine young children not needing medical attention after being deliberately hit with a baseball bat or after being pushed down the stairs. Every doctor is required to report signs of such abuse to the authorities.

  2. The daughters survived childhood and became strong enough to fight off mum and her baseball bat, even with the broken bones they would have had from previous assaults (presumably left untreated because mum couldn't take the kids to the doctor);

  3. Mum must be an avid baseball player - cricket bat I could understand, but a baseball bat sounds a bit fishy;

  4. Mum went out to work even when she could have stayed on welfare, doesn't really fit the image the author is asking us to believe;

  5. Her life story is information the daughter wants to put before the court in mitigation for the GBH charge, so it might be reasonable to guess that she's exagerating just the teensiest bit.

Kurt said at May 9, 2006 10:28 PM:


Reproductive policy was set in stone for the U.S. by the 1948 SCOTUS decision that ruled that reproduction is an unfettered right that cannot be abridged by the government. This ruling was in response to the "positive" eugenics that was practiced in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century. This often involved involantary sterilization of the mentally retarded and other persons deemed undesirable for reporduction by the state.

This SCOTUS ruling cuts both ways, of course. Not only does it preclude forced sterilization of the mentally retarded and drug addicts and the like. It also precludes any legal restrictions on the right for people to genetically engineer their kids for high IQ and what not. You see, ANY legal restrictions on reproduction, ether at the low end or the high end, is by definition a form of state-sponsored eugenics. It also violates the fundamental right to reporduction by any means possible.

This fact is often overlooked by those who want to limit the reproduction of "problem people" as well as those who want to restrict access to reproductive technologies and "designer" babies. It renders much of the discussion on both subjects as completely irrelevant.

Whether or not this ruling is desireable or not is a subject for another discussion.

Rick Darby said at May 10, 2006 6:35 AM:

Why do you have to get a license to keep a dog but can produce any number of children and it's no business of the state?

A rhetorical question, of course. The state doesn't care whether you have a dog or not; it's just one more thing they can tax, like a car. But, I maintain, it is society's business if you want to have children. Even if you can afford the normal expenses of raising children, some of the burden is shifted onto others in the form of costs for schools, required inoculations, public playgrounds and the like.

It's undeniable, though, that many people who have children can't afford them financially and don't have the emotional resources to raise them well. Such children must be, in effect, raised by the state. If they become criminals as a result of parental malfeasance, the taxpayer must pay for them to be prosecuted, then housed and fed in prisons.

In more cases than we like to acknowledge, childbearing is yet one more instance of irresponsible parties externalizing the costs of their own behavior.

Stephen raises a valid question about how society could protect its own interests in the reproductive area without unduly infringing on people's lives and further bloating the realm of government. I too don't like the idea of a board of bureaucrats deciding who gets to reproduce. But the right to have children should not be absolute. When parents show themselves manifestly incapable of raising children responsibly, there should be a legal mechanism with reasonable safeguards for society to be able to step in and say, "Enough." I don't see why sterilization should be considered any more unthinkable than jail time for child abuse (as an example), and it sure does a better job of keeping the problem from further proliferating.

Antinomy said at May 10, 2006 9:22 AM:

>"Mum must be an avid baseball player - cricket bat I could understand, but a baseball bat sounds a bit fishy"

Brits buy baseball bats to use as weapons.

Kurt said at May 10, 2006 9:34 AM:

Randall and Rick,

I agree whole-heartedly with the both of you.

Its just that very little can be done unless the 1948 SCOTUS ruling is be reversed. Getting SCOTUS to reverse a previous ruling is a very difficult thing, as the anti-abortion lobby is well aware of. The right to reproduction is probably even more firmly implanted in the firmament of American thought than the right to get an abortion.

Reversing the the SCOTUS ruling opens all sorts of cans of worms. Once it is decided that reproduction is not an absolute right, it then become a political issue among all kinds of political factions. You've got the disability activists who will oppose any attempts to restrict the reproductive rights of those with any sort of "limitation". You've got the tranhumansist and the like who want to genetically design their kids to be supper bright. You've got religious lobbies of all stripes trying to mandate that everyone or noone should have kids and so on. The list goes on and on. Do we really want to politicize reproduction more than it already is?

I think for now, the options on dealing with this are very limited.

Mike Quinlan said at May 10, 2006 9:59 PM:

Since when are drug addicts or alcoholics necessarily low IQ ? Moreover, very often the state does get involved in determining whether such people get to be parents or not, oftentimes by removing the kids and placing them in some form of foster care. Sadly enough we dont provide many with an enriching upbringing. You should spare a thought for the kids, and I mean all such kids. No one gets to choose how he or she gets born into this world.

Bob Badour said at May 12, 2006 11:21 AM:


Removing a child to foster care does not reverse the child's conception and does not prevent the parent from conceiving again.

Jordynne Olivia Lobo said at August 3, 2006 5:45 PM:

Given the inviolability of the right to reproduce, the question becomes: why ought taxpayers to be saddled with the burden of funding housing, medical care, food, various other social services, and spending money for people who have shunned education, who shun - indeed avoid - employment, and who merely demand their "rights" - people who have abdicated the responsibility to shift for themselves? Further, why should employed, law-abiding, society-contributing taxpayers be made to endure the destruction and filth caused by such people's careless, society-subtracting "lifestyle," and to have to put up with the depredations (and the costs which attach to them, such as rising taxes and insurance premiums) which such people inflict on victims of their crimes against property and persons? Why is it nowadays mistaken to be "society's" - viz., the taxpayers' - obligation to care for ne'er-do-wells who amount to nothing more than parasites?

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