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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Eight Enough?

Several people have asked me to comment on the octuplets situation.

How is a Catholic to react to the news that a single mother has 14 children by in vitro fertilization, is on welfare and must be supported by the US taxpayer?

That's easy.
Take the issues one at a time.

A) Single motherhood.
Single motherhood is a sin if entered into with consent (rape is, of course, a different situation). She had no business being a single mother, which is an offense against the children on several levels.

First, it increases their physical danger. As Ann Coulter has definitively documented, single motherhood is the single best predictor of substance abuse, low school achievement and probability of imprisonment among the children they failed to raise.

Second, and worse, it is a sin against the children, who deserved to be conceived in the normal way by two parents who are bound by promises of life-long service to each other.

B) Through IVF
IVF is an even greater sin against the children than single motherhood.
Not only is IVF associated with a much higher risk of fetal deformity and later physical disability, it is also a sin against the child conceived in this way. A child has a right to be embraced within his mother's body from the first moment of existence, she should not be treated like an implantable ice cube simply because the mother finds this the most convenient way to conceive her.

C) 14 Children
praise God for big families! There's nothing wrong with having fourteen children. Indeed, in this day and age, it might be considered an heroic virtue. Saint Catherine of Sienna was the 23rd child in her family - large families can produce wonderful vocations. But that's assuming that the woman's motivations are relatively pure.

The fact that she was advised to abort several of the children and steadfastly refused to do so demonstrates that she has her head on straight to at least some degree. The fact that she used IVF as a single mother demonstrates that she does not have her head on straight. So good Catholics can come down on either side on this part.

D) On welfare
Society has a duty to protect the weak. The woman has a right to sustenance to care for her children. Indeed, to the extent that I have resources and refuse to share them with someone in need, I have stolen from the poor. St. John Chrysostom has several homilies that revolve around this theme: if you have six pairs of shoes in your closet and regularly use only one or two pairs, the other four pairs are stolen from the poor.

It is not a sin to be poor. It is not a sin to receive charity.

Furthermore, if the United States government can give subsidies to farmers to grow rice, wheat and mohair, then certainly the government can subsidize or otherwise financially assist parents raising the nation's children. It's not at all clear to me how paying to feeding a child's mind through public school is any different from feeding a child's belly through welfare, food stamps, WIC, and the like. Public schools are just as much welfare as giving them Wheaties is.

E) Supported by the US Taxpayer
On the other hand, it is a sin to extort money out of someone. We should be given the opportunity to be charitable, not be forced into it. By forcing the taxpayer to contribute money, the principle of subsidiarity is violated. Subsidiarity dictates that a higher authority should not interfere in the operation of a lower authority. The federal and state governments have no right to take money from the taxpayer in order to fund this.

Welfare should come from the grace-endowed goodness of individual taxpayers who choose to assist others. The right to private property must be respected. The government has every right to strenuously entreat people to help their fellow poor citizens, but I don't see where it has the right to extort money for the poor from them.

Certain people are always on about how you shouldn't give a man a fish, you should teach him to fish. Well and good. So don't take a man's money, give a man a chance to learn to give money on his own. Shame him into it, if you like, but don't take it from him. It's his resource, given to him by God, and he's responsible for it. If a government functionary takes it, then that functionary becomes morally responsible if it gets wasted. Who wants to be in THAT position?

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