“If you don’t intend to have kids, don’t get married.” What?

We just returned from a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to New Zealand, where we were able to put non-South Pacific news out of our minds. Those Kiwis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Nevertheless, we had plenty to think about when we learned how this beautiful country–the last to be discovered by humans–managed to get its fauna screwed up, starting with the arrival of humans on its shores. For the animals on the land of the Kiwis it became a sad tale. That story, however, is for another day.

But no sooner had we arrived home and flicked on the TV than we were immersed in the controversy over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage (evidently the so-called budget sequestration issue had been resolved in our absence, as evidenced by the fact that in the five days since we returned, we have not seen or read a single story about it). Stand where you may on the gay rights issue, but one argument enrages us and should likewise raise the hackles (wherever they may be on humans) of anyone who does not or cannot have children.

There are those who argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation. In Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as in Tuesday’s hearing on California’s Proposition 8, the procreation argument came up.

If procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, it raises the following questions:

Should women over age 50 be permitted to marry?

Should infertile couples be allowed to marry?

Should couples who intend to use donated eggs or sperm be allowed to marry, since the donated gamete will not belong one of the prospective parents?

And the greatest stick-in-the-craw question of all: Should ordinary heterosexual couples who have absolutely no intention whatsoever of having kids—like the two of us—be authorized to tie the knot?

And here’s one for “dessert.” If two women want to marry with the intent of having one of them having in vitro fertilization, does that put them above a heterosexual couple who merely want to adopt? … and the beat goes on.

While half of American women who give birth under age 30 do so without being married, the marriage/procreation connection becomes even more tenuous. As for those who argue that marriage for the sake of procreation is the only way to go, we hope that fewer of those folks marry, ideally because it dawns on them that there are already Enough of Us.

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part II

Last week, in Part I, we began this discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation,” in which she lamented the societal and biological risks of older parenting.

 

Men over 50 are three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child.

Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in culture media teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development.

Commonly used, “Clomid . . . came out particularly badly in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART [assisted reproductive technology] and birth defects,” reports Shulevitz. “ICSI (intracytoplasmic) sperm injection shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure.”

A child with trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 child. Photo: Emilyscookiemix.com

While she recognizes that women do not want to cut their careers short for the sake of having kids, Judith points out that if they don’t have children, they’re denying themselves s full life.

But older parents have emotional disadvantages. “Procrastinators” become members of the “sandwich generation,” caught between toddlers tugging on one hand and elder parents sharing the latest updates on their ailments. Elderly grandparents provide less support than their younger counterparts.

What haunts her about her own kids is the gamble of dying before they’re ready to set out on their own.

And these problems could proliferate if  “aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. [British psychiatrist] Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. ‘Who is going to take care of that child?’ he asked, ‘Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?’”

The birthrate has dropped by a significant 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had decreased from 4.7 to 2.6.

While Shulevitz is making compelling arguments about older parenting, ones with which we agree, the goals of her arguments are where we part company. She makes the case that society needs to reform itself so that parents become parents at earlier stages of life. That way there will be fewer disabled children, more individuals to care for older generations, and enough workers to replace the aging people who will be better able to adapt to new technologies. She concedes that fewer people means less demand for food, water, land and energy.

Let’s start with the latter first. As we have written on several occasions, when societies move into the middle classes, their per capita consumption of food, water, land and energy skyrocket. Bigger homes, conspicuous consumption, wasted water, cars, heating and air conditioning; you get the picture.

It seems to us that there are three choices for the career-focused. Have your career or your kids. If you want them both, do as many others have done, and burn the candle at both ends earlier in adulthood. But making kids in order to provide preceding generations with a support system is selfish, reckless, and the world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme. We have to stop at some point. Are the projections of 10 billion-plus devourers of natural resources, clean air, and water by the end of this century not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us?

 

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part I

The average age of first-time mothers has increased by four years over the past half century, according to science editor Judith Shulevitz in the December 20, 2012 issue of The New Republic. Many professional urban couples are postponing making babies until their 30s and early 40s. The downside is, as Shulevitz herself has experienced, recent rises in developmental disorders.

            Some examples: The average new mother from Massachusetts is 28; in Mississippi it is 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother is 29.1; African American 23.1. A college-educated woman has a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older.

           Shulevitz decries late-in-life reproduction, due to the amplified risks to the child and because delayed childbearing will result in a shortage of younger people to support, and replace, their progenitors. While we agree with the former, we dissent from the latter because of its societal self-serving motives. 

Judith Shulevitz

Photo: jtsa.edu

           Judith and her husband weren’t ready for parenthood until she was in her mid-30s and her husband was “forty-something.”  The doctor started her on a regimen of ovulation-stimulating hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid, or Serophene.

            If the Clomid didn’t work, she might move on to: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), or even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). The Clomid and IVF worked.

            “My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay.”  He needed occupational therapy for his mild case of “sensory-integration disorder.”

            She soon found what she describes as, “a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older.”

            Subsequently, the couple had a “natural” daughter. But Judith found herself meeting women of approximately her age with kids who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and sensory-integration disorder.

            As we have previously discussed on this blog, and in our book, Enough of Us, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays are on the rise.  Between 1997 and 2008 there has been about a 17 percent increase in these disabilities. According to Shulevitz, one in six American children had a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

            Scientific evidence indicates that aging bodies of potential parents should elicit more cautious behavior than they apparently do. Would-be parents consistently underestimate how sharp the fertility drop-off can be for women after age 35. Inversely, the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy—which includes Patau and Edwards syndromes—increase.  Patau syndrome gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year. Edwards syndrome, features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life. In previous posts we have given the examples of the unfortunate offspring of politicians Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

            The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. When born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight—leading to chronic health problems later in children’s lives—increase.

            Researchers suspect a link between the 78 percent rise in autism over the last decade and the rise of parental age. One theory “is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides.”

We will continue this discussion next week in Part II of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Oppose Abortion and Oppose Subsidized Contraception? It’s a Recipe for Disaster

Across America the righteous right seems to have no shortage of barriers in its arsenal that are designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain safe, legal abortions. When these very same folks also oppose government-sponsored or insurance-sponsored family planning (read: contraception) they fall into the category of biological Luddites.

As part of a study published last October 4 in Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave more than 9,000 women and teenage girls free contraceptives.  Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method.

The number of accidental pregnancies fell to between 62 and 78 percent below the national average. Teens are at particularly high risk for unintended pregnancies and, therefore, abortions. The study concluded that free contraception could reduce the number of abortions in the United States by a whopping two-thirds.

When we hear the likes of former senator and would-be presidential candidate Rick Santorum as well as Catholic contraceptive naysayers, decry the idea of government involvement in the contraceptive “business,” it leaves us scratching our heads. We have no argument with the church instructing its adherents about how to deal with their own genitalia. That’s their business. But when you comprehend the realities of unwanted pregnancy, it seems to us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; the “cure” in this case being abortion.

The research found that providing free, reliable birth control to women could prevent between 41 percent and 71 percent of abortions in the United States.

Three-quarters of the women in the study elected to use long-acting contraceptive methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants, which have lower failure rates than birth control pills. In the United States, IUDs and implants have initial costs in excess of $800 that sometimes aren’t covered by health insurance, making these methods unaffordable for many women. We can only guess that the insurers don’t want to fork over more than 800 bucks for each fertile female client when the insureds might be able to provide their own individual-use contraception.

IUDs

Copper (l) and hormonal intrauterine devices

According to lead author Professor Jeff Peipert, MD, “The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies. …We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country.”

Health-care professionals insert IUDs and implants, which are effective for five to 10 years, and 3 years, respectively. They provide superior effectiveness over short-term methods. But only a small percentage of U.S. women using contraception choose long-term implanted methods for a variety of reasons, including expense and fear of implanting devices into their bodies. “Unintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United States, with higher proportions among teenagers and women with less education and lower economic status,” Peipert says. “The results of this study demonstrate that we can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and this is key to reducing abortions in this country.”

As for those who cannot see the forest for the trees, doesn’t it make more sense for state and federal governments to provide contraception, and to require insurance companies to do so for those low-income folks who are lucky enough to have coverage, than for the government to pick up the tab for pre- and post-natal medical care of mother and child?

In addition, we wonder what other burdens—like education, housing, child support services, and healthcare—such families, especially single-parent households, will impose on society. We say that regardless of the immediate financial costs, Enough of Us already inhabit this planet. So let’s cough up the 800 bucks every three or five or 10 years and save ourselves all the other potential costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Having Kids Equals Degenerate Behavior? You Probably Won’t Believe

  Imagine deciding to take a gamble, but if you lose, that is if the bet goes wrong, an innocent party has to pay. In addition, just placing the bet is almost guaranteed to impact the planet negatively. Well, in his column, “More Babies, Please,” in the December 2, 2012 New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut) exposits that by virtue of not making such bets American society is on the road to decadence.

Douthat is worried about America’s declining birthrate. “The retreat from child rearing is, at some level,” he proposes, “ a symptom of late-modern exhaustion – a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich

Ross Douthat, photo- New York Times

societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be.”

This is flip-flop reasoning. And it most certainly is not “conservative” thinking. Douthat’s reasoning would make the Ponzi scheme of population growth the savior of the US economy and quality of life. He feels that because our nation has had a higher fertility rate than France, Japan, China and Brazil it is a superior economic powerhouse.

He takes no notice that our planet is going to an ecological hell in a handbasket, fueled by a population soaring toward 9 billion-plus in this century. Wealthy countries like the United States are the worst offenders because of their profligate consumption of materials and energy.

He makes the case that today’s babies will grow up to be tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers. But with fewer people, we would not need as many entrepreneurs and workers. Douthat is concerned about the worker-to-retiree ratio. He is worried about who will pay taxes in the years ahead. Let’s project this into the distant future. Will we need more babies or immigrants to feed the insatiable retiree hunger, ad infinitum? This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme. The global community of humanity will need to stop growing before we doom our own survival. If not now, when?

Human beings are currently consuming renewable resources like lumber and water at unsustainable rates. Mankind is depleting fossil fuels that will be unavailable for future generations without knowing whether today’s babies will have the know-how to develop non-fossil alternatives for airplanes, ships and a variety of other concentrated energy demands. With climate change wreaking havoc on weather patterns we cannot – at least for now—reliably predict water supplies and shortages.

If we limit our thinking to shortsighted issues like US economic competitiveness and producing future generations for the financial benefit of current retirees, we are doomed to fail. Ideally what would benefit Americans, along with everyone else, is enlightened political leadership that is willing to look the elephant in the room in the eye and ask, “What are we going to do about this thing – this enormous, ever-growing, ever more-consuming mass of humanity that is cannibalizing its own home?”

Certainly there are enough of us. In actuality, there are way too many of us. But let’s go back to that bet that an innocent party has to pay for. We are referring to the very act of procreating. It’s a gamble. One percent of American adults live incarcerated and six times that many spend time behind bars in the course of a lifetime. One percent have disorders on the autism spectrum. Add in mental illnesses, childhood and adult diseases, the expectation that one-third of Americans will have diabetes, and dysfunctional families raising unhappy kids. In other words, parents roll the dice and if the resultant baby comes up craps, it’s the kid who is the primary loser of the bet. We wonder how Douthat can have the chutzpah to call America’s decreasing fertility rate “decadent.” The decision to not reproduce is anything but selfish.

 

Disabled Children, Dedicated Parents, and the Uncertainties of Temperament

We are about to expound upon issues raised in the new book, Far From the Tree—Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. Unfortunately, we have not read the book (because we have been closeted away trying to make the final, or shall we say the final, final, final edits of our own book, Enough of Us.) We understand that this is the epitome of chutzpah, but let us explain.

Author Julie Myerson reviewed Solomon’s tome in the November 25, 2012 New York Times Book Review. We feel it suffices to rely upon Myerson’s review because it is so supportive of Solomon’s work – it ends with the phrase “this wise and beautiful book.”  As reported in Myerson’s review, Solomon’s work provides object lessons for potential parents who might be in denial about the possible exigencies of reproducing.

Solomon argues that “there is no such thing as reproduction.” There is only production, meaning parents produce new individuals who may bear traits quite different from those of their progenitors. Often, as we have pointed out many times in our current ebook and on this site, those differences entail very difficult lives for both offspring and their parents. Myerson begins her review, “How does it feel to be the mother of a teenage dwarf who’s desperate to start dating? What if you love the daughter you conceived when you were raped but can’t bear to be touched by her? And, as the father of a happy, yet profoundly deaf son who’s forgotten how it feels to hear, how do you deal with your memories of the times you played music together?”

Solomon, a psychiatry lecturer at Cornell University, spent 10 years researching his book, and interviewing 300 families with disabled children. He likewise delves into his own depression earlier in life, stemming at least in part from coping with his homosexuality.

Myerson writes in referring to Solomon’s work, “…despite the fact that we never know quite what — or whom — we’ll produce, it’s one of the least bitter truths of human existence that, regardless of what pain and anguish they put us through, we never ever regret our children. ‘It is not suffering that is precious,’ he notes when recalling the depths of his depression, ‘but the concentric pearlescence with which we contain it.’”

In researching our own book we have found quite contradictory instances. An extreme example is Lionel Dahmer, father of madman and serial torturer-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. Lionel’s book, A Father’s Story, expresses profound regret.And the younger Dahmer showed no childhood signs of his potential for hyperpsychotic behavior, so his parents had no idea how “far from the tree” their son had actually fallen.

Solomon enumerates just one disability that elicits no rewards – schizophrenia. “’The suffering of schizophrenics and their families,’ he writes, ‘seemed unending and singularly fruitless.’”

As Julie Myerson describes Solomon’s work, he makes the argument that in spite of the amount of sorrow, grief, anxiety, and the like, “most of the families Solomon describes are grateful for experiences they would have sacrificed everything to avoid.”

This reminds us of the classic horror movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which large pods from space land on Earth. The pods foam open and issue forth replicated versions of nearby humans.  Then, when the people fall asleep, the replicated bodies absorb their respective consciences, leaving the humans emotionless, uncaring, and unsympathetic to any situation

Kevin McCarthy about to torch a pod in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – Allied Artists, 1956

that would normally have elicited emotions that make us human. Those in fear of the pods would go to any extent to prevent their emotionality from being stolen. But for those whose sympathetic emotions the pods drained away, their new personalities are so ideal to them that they now proselytize the conversion of their souls and join their fellow emotionless acolytes in victimizing their neighbors.

In other words, Solomon’s conclusions about never regretting one’s children may beg the question. Not many people would desire a child with severe disabilities. We guess that most folks, if they knew that pregnancy would deliver them a child with a pronounced debility, would opt not to get pregnant, or to have an abortion, if the latter was not objectionable to their values. But, like the victims of the pods, once the child is born, they would, perhaps instinctually, embrace and love the child. After all, he or she would be their child.

The case we are making is this. Producing a disabled child is not some far-fetched unlikely occurrence. Mental and physical illnesses and disabilities occur all the time. Think of how many such instances you know of. Add to that the children who grow up to be drug addicts, criminals, ne’er-do-wells and losers in general. That should give anyone pause who isn’t ready to cope with the potential dramatic difficulties of raising a child, Solomon’s research and “pearlessence” notwithstanding.

 

Men Can Parent Older than Women. Ain’t that Grand? Maybe Not!

Photo: CommunitiesForAutism.org

There is no news in the knowledge that men remain fertile almost indefinitely. And in this blog, as well as our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss the jeopardies for babies of older mothers.

Now, research is indicating that being an older dad has its substantial risks as well. It turns out that because men generate new gametes (cells that unite with other cells to produce the fertilized egg—oh, what the hell—sperm) for each fertilization, the chances of the sperm having gene mutations increase as the years pass.

You may know that in the United States one of every 88 newborns is inflicted with one of the disabilities on the autism spectrum. That number has been rising dramatically over the past few decades. While it’s true that some of that increase is due to improved diagnostic capabilities —Cheryl’s own brother being an example of that—there are other contingencies that need to be considered.

Researchers in Iceland analyzed the genetic makeup of 78 families in which offspring had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism. It was random mutations in the DNA of the fathers’ sperm that were the primary source.

Women develop their eggs very early in life, so there is not a significant ongoing opportunity for mutations. But since men are constantly producing new sperm, the opportunities for mutation present at each occurrence of genetic copying that is part of the sperm production process.

The study found that a 20-year-old father typically produces 25 mutations in his child’s genetic makeup. By the age of 40, that average rises to 65. The Icelandic geneticist who conducted the study tells the Los Angeles Times that the trend toward later fatherhood is “very likely to have made meaningful contributions to increased diagnoses of autism in our society.” The University of Iceland researcher, Kari Stefansson, attributes between 15 and 30 percent of all incidents of autism to genetic mutations from older dads.

Even so, the risk of a man in his 40s producing a child with genetic disorders remains a relatively low one in 50. That liability grows with the father’s increasing age.

The questions remain, is gambling on the wellbeing of a newborn—or the adult it is to become—ethically responsible? At what odds is the gamble worthwhile? And isn’t it an increasingly problematic ethical question if the father takes that gamble to ever-higher levels by inducing pregnancy as he ages?

The Unfortunate State of Many American Children

Let’s stir things up from the get-go. Just as the best way to protect soldiers is to keep them out of unnecessary (read: most) wars,  the best way to protect children from lives of misery is to prevent them from entering such lives. We never anticipated that we would again see a time when America would be in such dire straits. And it’s usually the children who experience the worst of it.

President of Children's Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman – photo: Children’s Defense Fund

In a recent essay on the Reader Supported News Web site, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) President Marian Wright Edelman lays out a frightening case for how bad things can get in still-rich America for so many unfortunate kids. The CDF has just released The State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook. It’s not a pretty picture.

Let’s start with the most dramatic. Guns killed kids in the United States in 2008-09 in greater numbers than all of U.S. military personnel who died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . combined . . . since both wars began.

There are more than 16 million poor children in the United States, almost half of whom live in extreme poverty. How sad is it that homeless shelters, child hunger, and child suffering have become everyday facts of life since the financial collapse of 2008?

There are now 10 states plus the District of Columbia that have poverty levels above 25 percent. Twice a minute another child is born into poverty.

On this site and in our ebook Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we make the case that we Americans need to cut down on our baby making, or at least give it a lot more thought before creating new lives. And we would hazard a guess that if you are astute enough to be reading our blog, you probably think that you are not among those whose children are likely to fall into the dark hole of poverty.

Keep in mind that there were 1.4 million bankruptcy filings in 2009, more than 1.5 million in 2010, and another 1.4 million in 2011. Add to that mortgage foreclosures of about 3.8 million in each of 2009 and 2010 and another 2.7 million in 2011.

Add to that job layoffs and you can see how bearing children can be a risky business, even for many who think they can offer prospective offspring a secure and happy life. As we make the case in our book, even those who are born into comfortable middle-class families are far from being guaranteed happy, healthy lives.

As Edelman writes: “I hope this report will be a piercing siren call that wakes up our sleeping, impervious and self-consumed nation to the lurking dangers of epidemic child neglect, illiteracy, poverty and violence. It’s way past time for those of us who call ourselves child advocates to speak and stand up and do whatever is required to close the gaping gulf between word and deed and between what we know children need and what we do for them . . . . please educate yourself and others about the urgent challenges facing our children . . .”

While she makes the case that America must give its children the help and hope they need, we make an additional argument, and one that comes equally from a position of caring for the happiness of kids. Why don’t we discourage the idealized images of happy, laughing, life-enriching children in favor of presenting realistic portrayals of the downs, as well as the ups, of creating new lives?

Miss Edelman urges that every person make a difference “if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward.” We would add that we need to educate would-be parents of the pitfalls and responsibilities of parenthood. And we should start while they are themselves still in school.

The Eastern Orthodox Religion and Procreation

            We continue with our examination of various religions and their views on procreation, this time focusing on the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its separation from the Roman Catholic Church resulted in differences between Catholicism’s and Eastern Orthodoxy’s views of procreation. Eastern Orthodoxy is divided into national subdivisions, including the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Coptic (Egypt and Middle East) and other regional Orthodox churches. 

The famous Russian Orthodox church in Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. Photo – wikipedia

    During the first eight centuries of Christianity there was one Church, which then divided into Eastern and Western divisions. The Church in the western Mediterranean became the Roman Catholic Church, and divided up again with the advent of Protestantism. The Church in the eastern region became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, which sees itself as separate from Western Christianity in that it views the Scriptures as they relate to the Holy Tradition of Apostolic times.

            Unlike the Roman Catholic religion, previously discussed in another essay, the Eastern Orthodox faith does not teach that procreation is the primary function of marriage. Spiritual oneness, the striving for eternal salvation, is.  However, and this is a big “however,” children are considered to be a natural part of being married. So, those who wait before having children, or those who decide never to have children, are in violation of the marriage union. 

            According to retired Orthodox priest Stanley Samuel Harakas, “Orthodox Christians are considered free in making moral choices.” In his essay, “Religious Beliefs and Healthcare Decisions,” Father Harakas states that “the Tradition guides and directs, but does not coerce, though ecclesial consequences can follow what the Church regards as improper decisions.” This is quite a paradox for the Orthodox community – freedom to think for oneself about what is moral, but such thought could occasion religious consequences.

           Birth control is allowed as long as it’s not “artificial,” such as birth control pills or condoms. (There are exceptions to this discussed in the next paragraph). Natural methods are acceptable if the circumstances are valid. A plus here for the pious is that these methods involve self-denial and self-control, and require a priest’s blessing.  The three acceptable ways to practice birth control in the Orthodox way of life are:

  • Limit sexual relations – this is a frequent choice when couples observe the traditions of fasting days and periods
  •  Total abstinence – when a couple has given birth to a number of children, and no longer feel that sexual relations must be part of their marriage
  •  Rhythm method (Natural Family Planning)

             The Orthodox Church does not subscribe to the dogmatism of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the birth control pill. In other words, there are circumstances where artificial birth control may be used, but this is largely a “pastoral issue where there may be multiple considerations.”

            Because the Orthodox Church considers the embryo to be human from conception, abortion is generally verboten. If a mother’s life is threatened or she has an ectopic pregnancy, the Church allows for some choice, and in these cases, preserving life is essential to the decision-making process.

            Orthodox religions disapprove of aborting pregnancy due to a physical abnormality in the child. These children are seen as “human beings in their own right, deserving of care and love.”

            Those who decide on a childfree lifestyle are considered sinners. Sterilization and birth control, other than for health reasons, is morally unacceptable. Couples of child-bearing age should “be prepared and expect to have as many children as God will send,” taking into consideration the health of the mother and the family as a whole.

            In our book, Enough of Us: why we should think twice before making children, we refer to a 1997 statement by Bartholomew I, patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, who passionately maintained that the ruination of the earth is against God’s will. To bear as many children as possible does not take into account that there already are enough of us. Seven billion strong and counting causes the degradation of the earth. This is a conundrum that all anti-family-planning dogmas must deal with.           

           

 

The Affordable Care Act and Baby-making

How will American society pay for births to mothers who cannot afford to have children?

The current health-care “system” (hah!) is inefficient. That’s like saying heating your house with candles in January is merely inefficient. First, there is no system, at least not “a” system. We have lots of insurance companies skimming profits off the top and lots of people who can’t afford insurance premiums going to hospitals. That’s because hospitals provide services paid for by federal, state and county governments, meaning taxpayers.

Since doctors and hospitals like income, they frequently order tests that may be only marginally appropriate and then collect insurance fees. For instance, Ellis’s urologist likes to have him take a prostate PSA blood test and then come into the office so the doc can tell Ellis that it looks fine. Ka-ching! He could tell Ellis the news over the phone and not charge for an office visit.

One of the biggest criticisms of the current non-system is that rather than encouraging good health and illness prevention, it encourages procedures and visits. Health-care costs have risen 100 percent in the last decade.

"Obamacare"

Photo – law.upenn.edu

For the approximately 17 million folks who cannot afford insurance at all, the Affordable Care Act will expand Medicaid coverage starting in 2014 at a cost to the federal government of about $116 billion per year.

The cost controls built into the legislation are theoretical and experimental. These controls are based on the premise that about 30 percent of health-care costs are wasteful. In light of that, the law empowers a panel of medical experts to recommend reimbursements cuts to doctors and hospitals. There is also provision for evaluation of the effectiveness of various types of care.

It’s common knowledge that prenatal women should see their doctors to monitor the health of both the  mother and embryo/fetus. But lots of pregnant women are very young and/or poor. This frequently means they depend on the generosity of the state to pay for their care. Add to that the cost of birth and postnatal care. And if the baby is not well . . . well, you get the idea.

 Unfortunately for many families, policies frequently exclude maternity care for anyone other than the policy holder and spouse. That means a child of an insured individual may have to foot the bill herself. For more details on this click to the PBS News Hour site.

 According to the March of Dimes, the average cost for uncomplicated maternity care including prenatal care, a routine delivery, and three months postpartum care was $10,652 in 2007.

Teenagers, the report noted, are less likely to get early prenatal care, more likely to smoke and less likely to gain enough weight during pregnancy. Thus, they’re more likely to deliver prematurely, resulting in more complications, including a higher incidence of low-birth-weight babies. The medical costs for such an infant is nearly 10 times higher than for a baby of normal weight, the report found ($32,325 vs. $3,325, citing March of Dimes data from 2009).

There are many politicians who are trying to kill Roe vs. Wade, making low-cost or free abortions difficult, if not impossible, to obtain for the poorest among us. That would mean additional government expenses for the care and feeding of many unwanted children brought to term.

So how does the Affordable Care Act fit into this proposition? Bear with us. The act requires that beginning in 2014 anyone not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid must pay for some kind of insurance policy of their choice (from a select list on what are called insurance exchanges) or opt out of buying insurance and pay one percent of their taxable income as a penalty, and live without insurance. Those who opt out would be in the position of paying their own medical costs or “freeloading” off the government when an urgent situation necessitates their going to a hospital emergency room.

There is a quote circulating all over the news media from a self-employed woman in Texas: “I could much more easily afford a dadgum penalty than be saddled month after month after month with this kind of premium.” The woman, Laurie Tirmenstein, would only have to pay $250 annually instead of paying $1,800 for an insurance policy. Good luck to her if one of her kids comes down with a traumatic illness.

One way or another, the burden of low-income people bearing infants at the expense of our healthcare programs is scary. Some will get lots of care at almost no expense. Others will get very poor care, leading to the hazards of producing at-risk babies.

Right now the economy is depressing the birthrate somewhat. But sooner or later that is likely to change . . . big time! If and when the economy recovers, low-cost health care could provide incentives for Americans to get back onto the birthrate bandwagon.

The question for us is, considering there are already enough of us, should we be creating a healthcare program that encourages people to procreate, who might not otherwise be able to afford pregnancy and postnatal care?

We would like to see some funds be made available to teach high-school students the benefits of waiting and acceptability of not having children at all.