Is Breeding Kids to Save Others Ethical?

          Thirteen- year-old Jordan Flynn needed a bone marrow order to survive. She has a rare disease called Fanconi anemia that destroys bone marrow and raises the risk for cancer.

The 3 girls with Fanconi anemia and their mother
Jordan, Jorga and Julia Flynn with their mom, Doreen – Photo Rock

         Jordan’s mother Doreen was desperate for a solution. She and her husband were unable to find a match for Jordan.  Jordan has two brothers – siblings being the best chance for a match – but neither proved to be a successful candidate to save Jordan. Doreen believes that federal law, which prohibits the buying and selling of body parts stands in the way of the thousands of people who need a variety of transplants. So she is heading a campaign to overturn the law through the court system.

          We have no argument with that either way. The ethical and legal issues are too complex for us to go into here. It’s the rest of Jordan’s and Doreen’s story, however, that generates tremendous ethical issues for us. You may have read about this story in USA Today or seen it on Rock Center on NBC.

          Eight years ago Doreen and her then-husband decided to try in vitro fertilization to create a new sibling- you might say a custom made match – for Jordan. There was a match all right, in the worst possible way. Jordan’s mom gave birth to twin girls, both with Fanconi anemia. After the Flynns divorced, Doreen found herself a single mom with five kids, three of whom had a life-threatening disease.  

         “I was so upset. I blamed myself,” Doreen declared on Rock Center. Amazingly, NBC’s in-house medical journalist Dr. Nancy Snyderman, whom we both respect for her reporting, asked, “Why?”

          “Because it was my fault.”


          “Because of the way their father and I had them. We chose to bring them into the world. And instead, all I did was bring in two more sick kids.” It seems Doreen Flynn understands the ethical issues better than Snyderman does.

          All three of the Flynn girls have been gravely ill. While the symptoms are not yet severe, the prognoses for survival past the age of 18 are grim.

          The good news is that Jordan received a transplant in May. While only time will determine the outcome, her chances are good. But what about her younger sisters? We can only wish the twins great success in finding donors.

          In our book, Enough of Us, we make the case that every pregnancy is a roll of the dice. There are no unselfish reasons for having kids. (If you can think of an unselfish reason, please let us know). If a kid’s life is a success, the gamble paid off. But if a child suffers, it’s not usually those who conceived him who suffer the most. It’s gambling with someone else’s life.

          This brings us back to the Flynns. Doreen and her husband gambled three times. The first gamble led to Jordan’s predicament. Then, in order to right a difficult situation, they rolled the dice again. Sorry – and the entire Flynn family has our sincerest sympathies – but conceiving children is the most selfish thing that otherwise moral people commonly do.

          What’s your opinion?


            We are magazine hoarders. Well, not really. We hold onto them unread until they become so out of date that we dump them. But a few days ago, Ellis was about to toss the fall 2011 issue of Catalyst, the magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists, when he noticed the cover story, “Global Warming and Health.”

            For the moment let’s assume that the climate change deniers are right and that human behaviors and air pollution do not cause climate change. But what about their effects on our collective health? According to Liz Perera, the article’s author, there are currently 3.2 million children and three times as many adults who suffer from asthma in areas with poor air quality. Add to that the 2.3 million with emphysema and more than twice as many with chronic bronchitis.

            Much of the country experienced record and near-record warm weather. It was enough to make us forget how hot the previous summer was for much of the United States. That hot spell led to dangerous levels of ground-level ozone.     

John Klossner – 2012 Scientific Integrity Cartoon Calendar – Union of Concerned Scientists

       Now let’s get back to the idea of global warming for the foreseeable future. Let’s pretend that the general forecasts from climate scientists are in the ballpark. If ozone (a harmful form of oxygen molecules) levels increase by a mere two parts per billion (ppb) by 2020, respiratory ailments like asthma attacks, severe coughing, wheezing and chest tightness could increase by 2.8 million. Add to that, 944,000 missed school days, and 3,700 senior citizens and 1,400 hospitalized infants. Now let’s project out to 2050. If an anticipated increase of seven parts of ozone per billion in the atmosphere were to reach fruition, we would likely crank up the numbers to more than 4 million missed school days and the hospitalizations of 24,000 seniors and 5,700 infants.

Think of how those numbers would affect family finances, whether the impact comes from medical bills or some type of government financed healthcare. Just the 2020 figures could result in an additional $5.4 billion in additional expenses (2008 dollars). Ozone increases, as well as global warming, are at least partly due to  power generation involving fossil fuels like petroleum and coal.

Those most affected by ozone pollution are seniors, outdoor workers (e.g. police, farmers, lifeguards, amateur and professional athletes), and infants and children, who themselves will be the source of the subsequent generation of victims.

While the Catalyst article proposes solutions to the predicament that include Environmental Protection Agency regulations that limit the production of nitrogen oxides (NOx) which lead to ozone formation, President Obama has delayed such implementation until at least next year. Catalyst also supports President Obama’s rules that require passenger vehicles to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and the generation of electricity from renewable resources.

However, we believe that such measures, while important, fall far short of the most important choices we need to make. As long as human population rushes headlong past eight, nine and probably 10 billion of us by century’s end, can we realistically afford to think locally – meaning just the United States – while we humans infect our global atmosphere? As long as Third World populations proliferate while transmuting into consumer societies – along with the Asian mega-nations – U.S. efforts to become less polluting will produce modest global results at best.

In addition to the efforts described above, the U.S. must act like a world leader in the realm of family planning. While global population balloons willy-nilly, the challenge to not poison ourselves with the air we breathe must involve open, loud and persistent dialog about the need to think twice before making children. We must set an example in our own house and then proselytize to the rest of the world. Wind farms, 54.5 mpg, solar generation, and fluorescent bulbs alone just ain’t going to do it.

Even if They’re Right, Climate Change Deniers Aren’t Doing us any Favors

   During the Republican presidential candidate debate on Monday night, ultra-conservative Rick Santorum expressed his disdain for the concept of global warming and advocated for the construction of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the oil sands regions of Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
   Santorum advocated for Keystone and has done so for coal burning as well, along with calling manmade global warming a hoax. That’s fine. But the ex-Pennsylvania senator – both for himself and as an avatar for the “denier” movement – seems oblivious to consequences of spewing toxins, allergens, and assorted chemical flotsam into the atmosphere and water supply, regardless of the issue of global warming. As we produce more Americans, who in turn make more demands for energy and chemical consumption, we are compounding our own potential for disease.
   In the fall 2011 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Catalyst magazine, Liz Parera asserts that, “In the United States today, 3.2 million children and more than 9.5 million adults who suffer from asthma live in areas with bad air quality.”

   Ground level ozone is a byproduct of nitrous oxides (NOx) combining with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The former are produced by burning fossil fuels, the latter by paints and solvents.
    UCS combined projections of climate-induced temperature increases with a measurable variable that indicates the relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations. For each degree of warming, UCS determined, there could be an increase by 2020 in ground-level ozone of up to two parts per billion (ppb) over current levels, and seven ppb in 2050. These outwardly-appearing miniscule numbers actually translate to significant public health impacts for most of the continental United States.
   But what do these numbers mean in practical terms? In eight years a two ppb increase could lead to an additional 2.8 million respiratory ailments, like asthma, severe coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. In turn, these events would lead to almost a million missed school days, along with 3,700 senior citizens and 1,400 infants being hospitalized per year.
   If accurate, the 2050 projection would mean almost 12 million respiratory ailments, four million missed school days, and 24,000 seniors and 5,700 infants being hospitalized. Then there are billions of dollars in attached healthcare costs.
   The battles rage in Congress, on campaign stumps, and in the media. It’s renewables versus fossil fuels; spending versus cutbacks, and notorious failures like the Solyndra debacle. But this truth remains: the longer we delay implementing environmental reforms, the less feasible it will be for us Americans to reduce air and water pollution.
   America’s population now stands at almost 313 million, an increase of almost four million since the 2010 census less than two years ago.. It would take dramatic change in family planning, tax code, clean air requirement, and other reforms just to level off the rate of toxin growth, in light of population expansion. Meanwhile, Santorum makes claims that contraception leads to unplanned pregnancies.
   In 2007, a group of independent experts called the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, unanimously recommended to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the government lower the cap on allowable pollution levels. Since then, UCS has been fighting to get those standards in place. But the EPA is under assault from members of Congress who are beholden to the coal industry and other influential business groups.

   Adding insult to injury, last September the Obama administration delayed planned stricter standards for safe ozone levels until at least 2013. And if President Obama doesn’t win the next election, there is no telling how long, if ever, it will take for new standards to be put in place (this is not an endorsement of Obama).
    “The United States has the know-how and the technology to reduce unhealthful pollution while also potentially saving billions of dollars.” says Liz Perera of UCS. “The choices we make today about the way we live, the energy we use, and the pollution we emit will make a difference not only for our own health and well-being, but that of our children and their children as well. The sooner we act, the sooner millions of Americans can breathe easier.”
   Let’s take that quote one step further. The sooner we realize that reducing the number of children, and subsequently, their children – as well as encouraging other nations to do the same, the better the planet we will leave to them. There are, after all, ENOUGH OF US.


South Korea Study Indicates That Having Kids may be a Bigger Gamble Than Previously Thought


Beautiful downtown Ilsan
Ilsan, Korea. Photo courtesy

A recent study in South Korea by researchers from the Yale Child Study center, George Washington University, and several other institutions sought to screen every child aged seven to 12 for autism. They conducted the survey in Ilsan, a suburb of Seoul, South Korea that has a population of about 450,000.

A few years ago, experts widely believed that approximately one in 150 Americans was born with some form of autism. Recent research has shown the number was closer to one in 100. Now, results from the South Korean study indicate that as many as one in 38 children is born with autism in South Korea. That’s more than 2.5 percent of all babies. And the results are likely to apply to other regions of the world as well, including the United States. With a more comprehensive approach than used in previous studies, the researchers were surprised by how high the rate was.

Creating children is a gamble – a high-stakes gamble. But the roll of the dice can have life-altering consequences. In our soon-to-be-released book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss at length the gambles involved in procreating. Among the many perils facing parents are physical and mental disabilities wreaked upon their progeny by the haphazardness of existence.

            In particular, the autism hazard is either growing or has been more widespread than detected until recently. Briefly, autism is a mental disorder that involves three areas of core symptoms. They are:

¨       Difficulty with social interaction and relationships

¨       Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication

¨       Limited interests in activities or play

The severity of these symptoms may vary from mild to severe, including an inability to speak. At the higher-function end of the autism spectrum is Asperger’s syndrome, from which Cheryl’s brother suffer. To learn more abut the autism spectrum, we suggest logging into We also recommend the documentary film, Autism, the Musical.

            The researchers believe that autism frequently goes undetected in many countries. Estimates from the United States were based upon educational and medical records, not the more labor intensive methodology used in South Korea. The study analyzed surveys responses for more than 23,000 children between the ages of seven and 12.

            Chapter 1 of our book makes the case that having kids engenders taking the substantial risk that children will be born with, or develop later in life, significant difficulties – whether physical, emotional or social – with which both the kids and their parents will have to grapple. Like Victor Frankenstein, most would-be parents envision bringing forth a generation of ideal offspring. What frequently occurs is the offspring are less than perfect, flawed, gross disappointments, or burdens on society. They may acquire untimely severe or terminal illnesses, have significant mental defects, or develop antisocial traits.

            But the findings in South Korea determine that this one narrowly-defined “defect,” autism, is more than just a rare occurrence. And while not all instances of autism are equal in severity, its potential occurrence is certainly worth considering by intended parents. Add it to all the other dangers lurking in life and it should, at least, give would-be parents food for thought.

The Overlooked Threat – Mental Illness

            When you hear the term “mental illness,” do you conjure up images of crazy people in institutions? Perhaps you think of a paranoid schizophrenic walking down the street pushing a shopping cart overflowing with junk and talking to himself.

            Not all mental illnesses manifest themselves in such ways. How about alcoholism; drug addiction; depression? Researchers at the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported on November 18 that more than 45 million people – that’s approximately one of every five Americans over 18 years old – suffered from some degree of mental illness last year.

            Of those, 11 million had a serious mental illness. That means about one in 20 of all U.S. adults suffered from a serious mental illness in 2009.

Depression can be debilitating

            Reuters news service quotes SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde: “The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity and family discord.”

            According to the survey, more than 6 million adults had a mental health need that went untreated, and more than 42 percent of those people said the lack of treatment was because they could not afford it.

            Almost 15 million Americans suffered from major depression in 2009.

            How many would-be parents, we wonder, ever give thought to this peril of life? How many think that their kid is likely to grow up depressed, schizophrenic or delusional?

            About 10 percent of American adults take antidepressant prescription drugs at any time. The highest percentage of these is among young adults. We know and have known more people who have suffered from depression – in addition to other mental illnesses – than we can possibly remember.

            So we ask you to give this a dose of long, hard thought yourself. Think about relatives and friends. Think about family members of friends, and friends of friends, who have suffered from serious depression. Think of others whom you have known, or known of, who have attempted suicide or descended into schizophrenia. Think of those who have had dementia, or Alzheimer’s, or any disabilities like Asperger’s syndrome.

            Consider the homeless who are on the streets of our cities because they have lost a grip on reality. We wonder whether their parents ever considered the likelihood that their babies would grow into such lives and whether having kids was a high-stakes gamble.

            The decision to make children deserves more thought than just coming to the decision that, “Gee, I’d like to raise a kid.”