Hypothetical Ethical Problem: The Population Situation

The Population Situation: An Exercise in Utilitarianism

You are a citizen of a developing country. The year is 2025 and your country is facing massive population growth. In the last decade alone, it has seen a population growth of nearly 200 million people, and demographics forecast continued rapid growth well into the next generation.

The nation has also seen a rapid rise in industrial and commercial development, both of which are wreaking havoc on the environment. Climatologists have noted a marked increase in the levels of air and water pollution. In addition, the nation’s reliance on mono-crops has made it food-dependent on its trading partners; it can no longer feed its growing population on its own. This has resulted in some food shortages.

The most promising option the state has at present is to try to stem the tide of population growth internally.

Demographers have noted that, primarily due to a tradition of raising large families and other cultural and religious mandates, most of the state’s population growth is occurring among poorer, rural sectors. Many families are comprised of up to ten children each. In some instances, birth control is available, but simply not used. In other instances, no birth control or formal family planning education is provided. The affordability of contraception is also a concern.

Culturally, however, it has been found to be taboo to discuss family concerns publicly. Yet the state knows that it is facing an impending food, environmental, political and even international crisis if something is not done immediately.

What is the nation to do? The following policies have been proposed:

  1. The nation should provide free contraception up to/including sterilization.
  2. The nation should enact a one-child policy, and prospective parents who wish an exception will have to apply for a license.
  3. Parents should prepare an environmental impact statement for their families annually, detailing the resources used. Families who exceed allotted resources for energy, food, etc. will be fined.
  4. Expectant mothers should be required to undergo genetic testing to ensure that each child has the potential to become a productive member of society.

Part 1: Brainstorming

  • After reading “The Population Situation,” write down your initial personal response to this situation and the proposed policies. After you are finished, mark any important ideas.
  • Choose some part of your writing to refine and post to this discussion. Include references to the text to support your comments and concerns. You might want specifically to focus on the information in Chapter 5 which deals with utilitarianism. However, you may certainly look at other perspectives as well.

Part 2: Assuming a Role

  • The government will be holding a series of regional meetings with local citizens to discuss the policy proposals. You will assume the role of someone in the community, and it will be your job to provide input from the point of view of this person. For example, if you are a teacher, you will put yourself in the place of someone who teaches school in this community. Try not to select a role that has already been taken by another student.
  • Brainstorm, considering how someone in your position might feel about the situation and the proposed policies. Do you have other suggestions? Then, refine your work, using concepts from the readings to support your points.
  • Choose some portions of your responses and post them to this discussion.
  • 1) Is there a major moral difference between voluntary sterilizations and forced sterilizations?

    2) If you’re against a one-child policy, would a less strict limit be more palatable, such as a two-child policy? Would that still be effective at reducing the population in a significant way?

    3) Is an “environmental impact statement” reliable in less educated populations or when people can simply lie on them?

    4) Is this an infringement upon procreative autonomy and bodily autonomy?

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