Bioethics Blogs

The Good of the Body

The December 2015 United Nations meeting on climate change was an historic moment for global efforts to reduce harmful carbon emissions. While it gained the agreement about the future good of the planet, it made clear that there is a long and hard road still ahead. Yet another global challenge is showing itself more visibly of late, overshadowed by global warming—that of the good of the body, our health as a species.

A telling place to begin that story is with China’s decision last year to eliminate its one-child limit, rescinding a policy put in place with much criticism in 1980. The initial motive of the policy was to slow or stop the rapid population growth in China, seen as a threat to its goal of eliminating poverty and endangering its fast-rising economic growth. Reduction of population growth, led by the U.N. and various NGOs—and popularized by Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb–had been an international movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Initially it was heavily focused on developing countries with very high birthrates and pervasive poverty, but it was gradually picked up by environmentalists as well for two reasons. One of them was anxiety about the projected future number of people on earth, dangerously straining natural resources. The other was the disproportionate climate harm done by heavily industrialized affluent countries even with much lower population growth.

With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia—where family sizes still remain in the six-to-eight children range–rising affluence, women’s education, and effective family planning programs brought about a significant decline of global birth rates.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.