Is population control ethical?

The current world population is estimated to be around 7.129 billion and counting, with China and India being the top two populated countries. It has been estimated that the world population will reach 11 billion by 2050. This rapid increase in population has already damaged the environment and condemned many people to poverty. The planet and its resources are finite, and it cannot support an infinite population of humans or any other species. In the light of these facts, is it morally acceptable for developed countries to invest in population control mechanisms in developing countries in order to limit their population expansion? Is population control ethical?

Opponents of population control (majority of the religious institutions), have strong moral objections towards the use of contraception and other birth control mechanisms. They argue that human life is valuable and that population control programs offend human dignity by treating humans as a commodity. Some opponents consider the funding of such programs in the developing nations by the developed countries as a form of imperialism. The bottom line is that mass birth control programs are believed to violate human rights by interfering with a person’s right to have as many children as they wish.

In a developing country like India, where the caste system and female infanticide are one of the major issues, mass birth control programs may be used to reduce the birth rate of certain classes, castes or ethic groups (eugenics). There is also a huge gender bias seen in such programs as they operate by controlling only female fertility by using female contraceptives such as pills and hormones. This leads to women unfairly bearing he burden of population control.  Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, had implemented a force sterilization program in the 1970s but the program failed miserably and was blamed to have created a public aversion to family planning, which hampered government program for decades. With one-third of the worlds poor living in India, unethical coercion may be used to undergo sterilization by offering incentives that can’t be refused.

If the world population continues to grow at this rate for long enough, no amount of technological tweaking or reduction of consumption can control and reduce the harsh environmental impact. We will be bound to face starvation and health crisis if human population does not stabilize soon. The relevance of overpopulation to climate change – due to overproduction of greenhouse gases, depletion of energy  – due to overconsumption of resources along with depletion of water and land, and loss of biodiversity cannot be overlooked.

Possible solutions to control population include widespread access to birth control, removing government subsidies for children after the second, and recovering the social and ecological costs of such further children through taxation – as proposed by Norman Myers. So far, about 400 million births have been prevented in China since 1978 as a result of their one-child policy. Population control should be driven by good socio-economic governmental policies and provision of family-planning medical services in all the developing countries.

Finding fast, implementable solutions will require multiple strategies, and it will not be either simple or inexpensive. Empowering and educating people, especially women in the developing countries will have an immense impact on birth control. Societies must overcome their religious barriers and accept family planning through contraceptive mechanisms. The issues related to overpopulation must not be shunned by politicians and must be discussed more openly to create public awareness. The overall goal should be to have a sustainable number of people living a comfortable lifestyle.