Philosopher Christine Overall is right to establish at the start of this book – part of a series called Basic Questions in Bioethics – that whether or not to have a child is, or should be, a matter of choice. That, as she says, has been true since the advent of the Pill – and indeed since the days of Marie Stopes, who pioneered accessible contraception. Childbirth is no longer something that just happens. And it is a serious choice. To have a child is a life-changing commitment that is irreversible. Yet in even the quite recent past, although some couples deliberately decided that they ought not to have any children, either because of their chances of passing on genetic illness or because of their chosen nomadic life, for the most part the question of whether or not to have children did not usually seem to be a matter of moral choice. But these days, when we are all ecologists, there are hardly any choices that are without moral implications: there are virtuous and vicious paths in choosing what we eat, what we wear and how we get about. Society has become deadly earnest, and little can be thought of as private, or merely a question of taste.
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