Monday, June 18, 2012

Abort the One-Child Policy?

A friend with whom I am not particularly well-acquainted asked me, today, a rather personal question, "Does being Catholic affect your view of the [one-child] policy? If so, how?" In case anybody else is curious, here is my considered answer. 

The local abortion hospital
Being Catholic affects my view of everything! The Church on Earth seems to think it has a special mission to focus on abortion and contraception, which I think is sexually deviant. The fullness and beauty and sanctity of life is preserved, consecrated, and respected in so many other equally important ways.

Over-population is one of the great pressures on the climate and natural resources that allow us to live healthy, happy lives. By any measure, China's confrontation of this great human predicament (i.e., climate change and environmental degradation) is a hundredfold more earnest than anything the United States' broken democratic system has been able to implement. This statement from the concluding remarks of a white paper, written in 1995, captures the Chinese government's intent behind the One-Child policy:
China is home to more than one-fifth of the world's population. It thoroughly understands the responsibility it bears in stabilizing world population growth and the essential role it should play. Family planning as an effective solution to China's population problems is more than just responsibility towards the well-being of the Chinese people and future generations; it is a duty owed to maintaining the stability of the world population. Working for the common interests of all of humanity, at the same time working for individual interests of each nation, the international community and each nation should work together to solve the population problems facing individual nations and the entire world. This will promote development and progress in every country and throughout human society.
Changchun's "family planning" hospital
I do not fault Vice-President Joe Biden (aka Gaffer-in-Chief) for his comments--"You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I'm not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable." The bold part--er, not so bold part-- is often taken out of context and used by the right-wing media.

States--and the Church agrees--are sovereign and, therefore, China has a right to establish its own policies. I think pushing the Chinese government to abandon this ineffective and sometimes inhumane policy is only likely to make them dig in their heels and turn it into an issue of sovereignty and self-determination. One needs to understand ones opponent. To make stopping this draconian policy a principle goal of our foreign policy and central to the diplomatic discussions that the US has with China seems fool-hardy and not constructive. Although there is nothing more important, no more enduring value than the sanctity of life, we have other fish to fry in these consultations between our embassies.

On the other hand, I think presenting the Chinese leadership with well-reasoned and scientific data about the failures of One-Child is not likely to fall on deaf ears. One of the strengths of a state that is run by a clan of people who are actively atheistic is that they cannot rely on superstition or faith for the support of their decisions; they must rely on reason and logic.

Feng Wang of The Brookings Institute is only one thinker at one think-tank who has cogently made the case for relaxation of the policy.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine, now almost seven years old, further outlines the weaknesses of this policy. The most interesting statement of these authors was, "First, relaxation of the policy can be considered only if fertility aspirations are such that a baby boom will not result." This is a brilliant, clear conclusion. The trouble is that we have no way of accurately measuring what they say in the next sentence, "There is now good evidence that China is becoming a small-family culture." The survey of almost 40,000 people upon which this inconclusive statement relies are inevitably poisoned by the inability of Chinese citizens to tell their government what they themselves want instead of what they think their government wants to hear.

Actually, the question that fascinates me is how China will use more social engineering to extricate itself from the problem that it has created for itself. Central planning is the hallmark of the Chinese communist system. One has to believe--with faith--that there are analysts, engineers and bean-counters wrestling with the big questions of gender balance and old-age dependency. One must also hope against hope that they will continue to crackdown on family planning officials who coerce women to make tragic choices. Forced abortion is illegal in China, even if a couple is in violation of the family planning policy.

Selected Bibliography
Therese Hasketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. 2005. "The effects of China's One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years", New England Journal of Medicine, 353, No. 11 (September 15): 1171–1176.

"China’s One Child Policy at 30". Brookings. 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2012-06-18.

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