Procreation, environment and rights


France seems to be a paradigmatic example of how current debates in ethics can become pressing social issues, at least in three domains involving directly or indirectly a reflection on population. France is currently in the midst of a major wave of protest over the pension reform that Edouard Philippe’s government wants to implement campaign promises made earlier by Emmanuel Macron. It is expressed by means of one of the longest public transport strike and massive demonstrations across the country for almost two months. Of course, part of the issue is specifically French (special pension plans, pay-as-you-go system, legacy of the ‘Conseil de la résistance’) while the other part is relatively classic nowadays since it is about ensuring the financial balance of the public pension system. Yet, surprisingly enough, several eminently ethical questions are emerging and colouring the debates: will demographic change ensure the viability of the pension system? To what extent can current working people, retirees or future retirees ask future generations to sacrifice their well-being? Can future generations be asked to repay a debt contracted today as a result of a specific social policy?

For the past three months, 150 randomly selected citizens have been asked how to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030 “in a spirit of social justice”. They are members of the “Citizens’ Climate Convention” and are due to submit their proposals in April 2020. These proposals may be translated into regulatory provisions, laws or be put to a referendum. It is expected such participatory democracy should “restore confidence in the decision-making processes” at work in a democracy and respond to the major environmental challenges that France in particular and the world in general must face. Two major presuppositions politically drive the holding of this convention: it is up to the State to put in place the legal provisions that will allow fighting future climate change, and changes in behaviour must be based on ideas and initiatives from citizens. In other words, the question of the articulation between the individual and the collective that arises through the question of the State’s mode of action with regard to the Common Good is at stake here. Several other ethical questions cross the debates: what is the place of human activity and our contemporary lifestyles in climate change? How can we avoid reaching a state of climate irreversibility? What impact does the number of inhabitants have on the environment?

After “Mariage pour tous”, debates on the new bioethics law, a campaign whose posters were removed from Paris train stations at the request of the mayor of Paris but ordered by a court to be re-posted, has revived debates on procreation issues. By linking together procreation, social progress and the family, this campaign raises the question of the conception of the “good” family and what kind of family a society should promote. However, it is indeed the issue of procreation without contraception or abortion for heterosexual couples that such a campaign is accused of defending. Several ethical questions then arise: why have children? Is it morally reprehensible to have or not to have children? Is there a right to have children? This workshop, by putting together researchers from various disciplines, aims at discussing how ethical and political questions can raise from considerations about procreation and population; and how they can be fruitfully linked to considerations about environment and rights.