This House Believes That Individuals Have A Moral Obligation to Not Have Biological Children


Eva Quinones, 2020 HWS Round Robin

Check the video here.


Speaker, we think perhaps life is as Hobbes detailed: nasty, brutish, and short. Perhaps it isn’t, but the most important thing in this debate is that you can’t know what if, what another person is experiencing is a perception of brutality and suffering and therefore you ought not enable the circumstances by which they are enabled to suffer.

Parenting is a unique capacity to cause suffering and therefore you ought not bring new children into the world.


The comparative is simple. This is not a debate about the narrative of facts, of expression, of the harm of having children. This is only a debate about the morality. On our side, we say it’s immoral, on Opp, they say it’s either morally neutral or positive, we can beat them in either world.


  1. What makes something a moral obligation
  2. Children can’t consent to being born
  3. You are consigning children to a life of misery

Argument #1: What makes something a moral obligation?

I think utilitarianism is the best principle in this scenario. The way that we come to ontological principles like you shouldn’t lie is typically by utilitarian framing, that is it’s better to live in a world where everyone doesn’t lie or at least tries not to. Similarly, it’s better on balance not to have children.

Therefore, we believe the utilitarian principle is the correct metric to evaluate the moral framing in this debate.

I also think Opp has a uniquely difficult barrier to overcome. The fact that this is a biological children, the emotional attachment a parent might feel to their biological child pales in comparison to adoption and the value that comes from taking a child that would not otherwise have parents and giving them parents.

The unique burden of Opp is to prove that not only is having children itself a moral good, but that it exists preferentially to taking care of the millions of children in this world without a home.

We say that we feel a responsibility with regards to humanity at large, towards one another, because we recognize mutual and reciprocal capacity to suffering. There’s an arbitrary value to your happiness of being a parent. The arbitrary value of happiness that you experience over someone else’s happiness is something you cannot know.

Given that a parent can live a reasonably happy life without having children, i.e. if I have children, I might be 10% happier, but I can still create a good life for myself without having children, and we have a large degree of control over our own happiness, we say that you have the moral obligation, therefore, not to have children to just shape your own happiness and to not potentially cause a situation in which someone else is created unhappily.

Recognize the trade off here. If you can do something with a relatively small cost to yourself, but a large benefit to others, then you ought do it and you have a moral obligation do it.

Because you have the ability to still live a good, rewarding, productive, life without having children and there are multiple paths to happiness, we don’t think that the path to having children brings enough exclusive benefit to warrant having children.

POI: this debate has to apply to approx 3,5B parents. are you claiming that there are 3,5B unadopted children?

No, but all of the parents out there in the world would be better off if they had adopted a child and would be doing a morally preferable action to having biological children.

Argument #2: Children can’t consent to being born

Biologically, parents make a decision to conceive a child, and the unborn child has no way to object. That child has not consented to all of the misery and harms to this world.

This is important for three reasons.

  1. They have no ability to weigh up the good and bad aspects of being born, and they are unable to opt out of being born.
  2. Children have no alternative once they have been born. Consent needs you to have meaningful choices available and children don’t have that.
  3. Parents are asserting their agency over the life of another human being. We say this is an act of structural violence in the literal definition of violence because you’re dictating the terms by which another individual is able to access and opt into a lifetime of suffering or a lifetime of pleasure.

Even in the best case scenario where a child does find their life rewarding and they look back on their deathbed and say this has been a net positive experience, we would still say that the decision to have a child is a bad one because they weren’t able to fully evaluate the alternative. They aren’t able to say, “If I hadn’t been born, this is the proper counterfactual world which would have existed”. Therefore, it’s an act of aggregated consent.

Argument #3: You are consigning children to a life of misery

Even if your own existence isn’t miserable, you’re emmiserating others.

1) On their own quality of life. You can’t with 100% certainty ensure your child won’t suffer, that they will be economically prosperous, that they will live a good life. Structurally, in fact, if your child is a female or PoC, they’re likely to face discrimination and racism. Maybe their happy memories outweigh these unhappy times, but we cannot know this. There’s an infinite potential for suffering and a very limited ceiling as to how happy your child can be, especially when you concede the fact that there are known structural constraints to how successful an individual can be, based on their lottery of birth.

Therefore, you ought not lend credence to the possibility of suffering because it is well known that your child can have a massively harmful life, and there is a relatively certain ceiling based on where you are and your position in the world as to what type of good life your child is able to live.

Even if your child themselves lives a good life, and we cannot know this, your child is negatively contributing to the lives of others.


1) Life is necessarily competitive as evident by the finite amount of resources and limited number of spots we have for competitive roles, things like entrance into Harvard or a high-paying job. Only if you will rise to become the cream at the top. If your child does succeed, if they are happy, that happiness is eclipsing someone else’s possibility of achievement.

That’s really harmful because even in the best case scenario for Opp, where your child lives a rewarding, fruitful life, that means that comes at the cost of someone else living a rewarding, fruitful life.

There’s 7B other ppl on the planet that you have an equal moral obligation to.

2) There’s no way to live a carbon neutral existence as of yet. Given that climate change is the biggest harm on our planet, and your child will actively be contributing to climate change, actively be worsening things like desertification for people who live in areas becoming increasingly arid, making it difficult for people to access food, you ought not have a child and put them in a position where they are enacting harm simply by the active existence against people that are already the most disadvantaged.

We rest by the principle that it is much worse to do harm to someone than to do good to them, because they can do good for themselves to a much greater extent, our unique ability as humans is to do harms to others, that is exclusive to this debate.


We say that you have a unique ability to do harm to others by having children and a unique ability to do harm to your children. For all these reasons, proud to propose.