“Based on up-to-date reliable data and consideration of all relevant contributing factors, the effect of smoking on the public finance balance in the Czech Republic in 1999 was positive, estimated at +5,815 million CZK [$253,300,000].
Positive effects on the balance of public finance:
1. Pension & Social Expenses Savings due to Early Mortality: +196 million CZK [$8,500,000]
2. Healthcare Costs Savings due to Early Mortality: +968 mil CZK [$43,000,000]”“Public Finance Balance of Smoking in the Czech Republic”, a report written by tobacco giant Philip Morris in response to the Czech Ministry of Health’s concerns over cigarette smoking. Unfortunately for Phillip Morris, the Health Commissioner wasn’t at all pleased to receive this report.
Contraception can be seen as a sort of “reverse trolley problem”. The “trolley problem”, in philosophy, asks the following question: Suppose that a trolley is approaching a branch in its tracks. On one branch (the branch the trolley is set to follow by default), there are several innocent people tied down. If the trolley takes this branch—which it is set to do—it will kill these several innocents via its passage. On the other branch of the tracks is a single innocent person, likewise tied down. You have a choice of two actions:
- Do nothing: In this case, the trolley will kill several innocents.
- Divert the trolley: In this case, you throw a switch to divert the trolley to the second branch, saving the several innocents but killing a single innocent—critically, a single innocent who would not otherwise have died, i.e. who will die specifically as a result of an action you took. However, taking such an action decreases the total number of people who will die, and is optimal in terms of preserving total lives.
The conventional trolley problem raises philosophical, legal, and moral questions. We will not examine them here. However, we can better understand contraception if we frame it in terms of a modified trolley problem.
Let us consider that the default movement of the trolley corresponds to the default (i.e. natural) behavior of the human body; the “facts of life”, if you will. If no action is taken (that is, if contraceptives are not used), then sex will naturally result in conception, pregnancy, and birth. These realities generate responsibilities for men and women.
In our scenario, a couple stands along this default section of track. The woman is turned with her stomach facing the track, and she will suffer some bruises and scrapes to it when the trolley passes; she also has a 1-in-5,000 chance, or 0.02%, of being killed by the trolley (to represent the pain and risks of childbirth, and the stretch marks that pregnancy often produces). The man has his wallet sitting partly on the track, and he will suffer the loss of some of his money when the trolley passes (to represent the financial costs of bearing and raising children). Similarly, we place a pair of cardboard boxes along the track. One box is for the man. It contains all the advantages he might realize from not having children: being able to travel more freely; sleeping around with various women rather than committing to one; having more money; escaping the responsibilities of fatherhood; etc. The other box is for the woman. It contains all the advantages she might realize from not having children: the opportunity to focus more intensely on her career and/or education; the opportunity to sleep around with various men rather than commit to one; escaping the responsibilities of motherhood; etc. In broad strokes, the contents of the man’s box and the woman’s box are similar, though there are some differences due to a combination of social and biological factors.
Six children are tied to the other track—these are the additional children that the average couple would be expected to have in their lifetimes if they did not use any contraception. The total number of children born to couples of good health under natural fertility conditions is roughly eight in a lifetime; couples in nations where contraception is common bear less than two per lifetime on average, but we will say that their fertility is two, and we take (8 – 2) = 6.
To use contraception is to pull the lever controlling the trolley intersection, steering it from its natural path. To use contraception is to eliminate the future lives of six children (who would one day become adults; who would one day bear their own children). For what? To protect the man’s wallet from being shredded; to protect the woman’s stomach from being bruised; to protect the contents of those cardboard boxes (independence; pursuit of work and education; promiscuity). Are we expected to believe that the contents of those boxes—valuable though they may be to the couple—justify the sacrifice of six people?
The majority of Western nations do expect their citizens to buy into such an argument. They insist: Use contraception. Pull the lever. Men are doing it. Women are doing it. Countries are promoting it—some even forcing it. If you pay taxes, you are paying for tools to pull this lever; you are paying for pro-lever-pulling “education” and advertising campaigns, both in your own country and abroad. Powerful forces tell you, in alternating shouts and whispers:
Pull the lever, my friend, pull the lever.
The trolley problem illustrates that life is a series of compromises–a series of sacrifices. The problem is philosophically interesting because it forces a decision between two options, each of which has its drawbacks. If there was a third option–to stop the trolley completely and rescue everyone, for example–then the trolley problem would be trivial, even pointless. When considering the use of contraception, we must recognize that pregnancy and birth do have costs: to the women bearing children, to the women and men raising them, to the societies into which such children are born, etc. However, using contraception to avoid these costs has the absolutely unavoidable consequence of eliminating massive numbers of human lives, of denying potential future people the right to life. Maternal mortality–the risk of death from bearing a child–is typically approximately 1 in 5,000. Contraception can reduce maternal mortality–at a cost of 5,000 child’s lives forfeited per one woman saved. Yet no sane moral logic would favor eliminating 5,000 people from the count of the living in order to save a single person. In the same sense, contraception can save money, given the medical costs of birth and the financial costs of raising children. Yet to argue that future humans should be denied an opportunity at life in order to save money is outrageous; it is the same logic applied by Phillip Morris in its protest of the Czech Ministry of Health’s recommendations to fight tobacco smoking. The voice that says “Preventing the birth of certain people will save money and resources” is technically correct–so is the voice that says “Premature death from lung cancer will save money and resources on pensions for certain people”. If anything, those who argue for contraception from a materialistic standpoint are applying logic even more repugnant than that used by Phillip Morris, for two reasons:
- The majority of those who die from lung cancer are in their fifties or beyond; cigarettes do not erase entire lives from the very beginning as contraceptives do. While the use of cigarettes steals away a smoker’s health and the later years of his or her life, the use of contraception steals away the entirety of the life of an unborn child.
- Those who die from smoking-related causes bear at least some responsibility for their own deaths, and and have at least some chance to break their habit. Nicotine is ruinously addictive, likely more so than any other known drug, but most addicts do eventually break their habits. Escape from smoking-related death is difficult, but possible. In contrast, those who are denied the right to life because their parents used contraception and/or abortion are both completely innocent and completely helpless; their chance of survival is essentially zero.
In the scale of harm, cigarettes can’t hold a candle–indeed, not even a glowing ember–to the destruction of human life caused by contraception. Imagine two hypothetical worlds: one in which not a single cigarette has ever been smoked, and one in which not a single birth control pill has ever been swallowed. Both worlds would have more people in them than our current world. The contraceptive-free world, however, would have a much higher population even than the tobacco-free world; eliminating contraception would do far more than eliminating tobacco in terms of increasing the number of living people.
With respect to materialistic and financial concerns related to child-raising, we can say this: There can never be too many children–not in a family, nor in a nation, nor on a planet. There can only be too few women willing to raise their children, or too few men willing to work to support their children. No couple ever has, or ever does, or ever will, have “too many” children. The strains ostensibly caused by “too many children” are in fact caused by men too lazy to support their offspring, or women too selfish to raise them. A couple never using contraception is unlikely to have more than twenty children, and a more realistic estimate is somewhere between eight and eleven.
Any woman not willing to bear and raise this many children needs to take a hard look at herself and cease her selfishness.
Any man not willing to support this many children needs to start working harder and being more productive.
Complexity is not evil. We are in fact fortunate that our world is more complex than the scenario of the trolley problem. We can–and should–and must–and will–work to improve the lives of men and women without denying billions of people the right to life via contraception. We will improve the quality of healthcare; we will improve economic opportunities.
Any person who would resort to contraception or abortion, and deny future people the right to life, must have his or her behavior corrected. We can–and should–and must–and will–apply any necessary force to correct this behavior.