May I see your permit to parent, please?

May I see your permit to parent, please?

Imagine that you've met the man of your dreams. You want to have his children.

Imagine, however, the paralysing self-doubt that paradoxically accompanies such romantic certitude: Will he still love me tomorrow? How many children should we have? Will he make a good father?

At this point, in my fantasy world, said Man of Your Dreams will pull out a laminated piece of plastic. "I have a licence," he would say in his deep, hypnotic baritone. "A licence to breed."

Most of us, at some point or another, have questioned the fitness of certain individuals to parent: The mother who gives her toddler fast food for lunch five days a week; the father shouting profanities at his hysterical son in public; the couple of drug addicts who get high while their baby is in the next room.

This month, Americans are weighing in on the case of National Football League star Adrian Peterson, in which he is being investigated for child abuse after whipping his 11-year-old son with a tree branch.

So when a friend recently posted on Facebook a Wired magazine article about licensing parents, it gave me pause - and opened up new perspectives.

In that Aug 14 article headlined "It's time to reconsider restricting human breeding", American writer Zoltan Istvan argued that, given radical science and technological advances in the near future, such as a birth-control microchip that lasts 16 years, and to prevent the suffering of tens of thousands of starving, abused and trafficked children in the world, it made sense to allow only suitable, responsible candidates to have kids.

"After all, we don't allow people to drive cars on crack cocaine," wrote Istvan. "Why would we allow them to procreate if they want while on it?

"The goal with licensing parents is not so much to restrict freedoms, but to guarantee the maximum resources to those children who exist and will exist in the future."

On the surface, it is tempting to agree with Istvan. Way back in 1994, American psychiatry professor Jack C. Westman noted in a column in the Chicago Tribune that "about 4 per cent of parents from all socioeconomic classes are incompetent" - and that many neglected or abused children became dangerous or dependent adults who "drain public funds and erode the productivity of our workforce".

In The Rationale And Feasibility Of Licensing Parents (1996, read it on www.pbs.org), Dr Westman wrote: "We need a new paradigm in which parenthood is a privilege, as it is now for adoptive and foster parents, rather than a biological right."

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