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The rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome revisited
  1. M Häyry
  1. Correspondence to:
 M Häyry
 Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Manchester, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK;

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If it is irrational to allow the worst outcome of our actions, and if it is immoral to cause suffering, then it is irrational and immoral to have children.

I recently published in this journal a paper, entitled A rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome, and was happy to see that three colleagues—Rebecca Bennett, Søren Holm, and Sahin Aksoy—had taken the time to critically examine it. This gave me an opportunity to briefly revisit the topic, and to clarify some of the arguments I put forward.


In my paper, A rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome,1 I claimed that it is irrational to have children,

  • if (a) it is irrational to deliberately allow the worst outcome of our actions in a given situation,

  • and if (b) to have children allows this.

I argued that having children allows the worst outcome of our reproductive choices (the creation of a possibly bad life, where the alternative is no life),

  • if (c) it makes good sense to restrict the analysis to the comparative value of life versus non-existence of possible future individuals, as experienced by themselves,

  • and if (d) there are individuals who genuinely would prefer non-existence to their own life.

My practical conclusion in the paper was modest: (e) “Possible parents could be told that, according to at least one philosopher, it would be all right for them not to reproduce at all.”1 This was my suggested “rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome”.


Holm argues against (a) that it is not irrational to deliberately allow a low probability of the worst outcome.2 He starts from the premise that to make my argument work I would need to regard the maximin rule—the rule specified in claim (a)—as the only criterion of rationality. If I do so, however, I …

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