In contemporary Western society, people are more often called upon to justify the choice not to have children than they are to supply reasons for having them. In this book, Christine Overall maintains that the burden of proof should be reversed: that the choice to have children calls for more careful justification and reasoning than the choice not to. Arguing that the choice to have children is not just a prudential or pragmatic decision but one with ethical repercussions, Overall offers (...) a wide-ranging exploration of how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life. Writing from a feminist perspective, she also acknowledges the inevitably gendered nature of the decision; the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women than it has for men. After considering a series of ethical approaches to procreation, and finding them inadequate or incomplete, Overall offers instead a novel argument. Exploring the nature of the biological parent-child relationship -- which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral -- she argues that the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child. (shrink)
With the help of medicine and technology we are living longer than ever before. As human life spans have increased, the moral and political issues surrounding longevity have become more complex. Should we desire to live as long as possible? What are the social ramifications of longer lives? How does a longer life span change the way we think about the value of our lives and about death and dying? Christine Overall offers a clear and intelligent discussion of the philosophical (...) and cultural issues surrounding this difficult and often emotionally charged issue. Her book is unique in its comprehensive presentation and evaluation of the arguments—both ancient and contemporary—for and against prolonging life. It also proposes a progressive social policy for responding to dramatic increases in life expectancy. Writing from a feminist perspective, Overall highlights the ways that our biases about race, class, and gender have affected our views of elderly people and longevity, and her policy recommendations represent an effort to overcome these biases. She also covers the arguments surrounding the question of the "duty to die" and includes a provocative discussion of immortality. After judiciously weighing the benefits and the risks of prolonging human life, Overall persuasively concludes that the length of life does matter and that its duration can make a difference to the quality and value of our lives. Her book will be an essential guide as we consider our social responsibilities, the meaning of human life, and the prospects of living longer. (shrink)
AN ASSUMPTION IN DEBATES ABOUT THE PHILOSOPHICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MIRACLES IS THAT IF A MIRACLE (A VIOLATION OF NATURAL LAW OR A PERMANENTLY INEXPLICABLE EVENT) WERE TO OCCUR, IT WOULD BE EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN GOD. THE PAPER EXPLORES RESERVATIONS BY SEVERAL PHILOSOPHERS ABOUT THIS CONNECTION BETWEEN GOD AND MIRACLES, AND PRESENTS ARGUMENTS TO SHOW THAT IF A MIRACLE WERE TO OCCUR THERE WOULD BE GOOD REASON TO DENY THAT GOD EXISTS.
Who owns frozen human embryos? Are "surrogate motherhood" arrangements dangerous for women? Should access to in vitro fertilization be limited or increased? With the development of complex reproductive technologies and the ensuing controversies in reproductive ethics, there is an urgent need for more careful examination of moral principles, current practices, and social policies pertaining to reproduction. The issues examined in this collection of nine papers focusing of the Canadian experience include abortion, the cryopreservation of embryos, the selective termination of fetuses (...) within multiple pregnancies, social policy for gestational "surrogacy," and the regulation of in vitro fertilization. Adopting a feminist perspective, the book places reproductive autonomy at the center of debates about the control of reproduction. (shrink)
RésuméJ'ai soutenu dans un article de 1985 que s'il y avait des miracles, cela parlerait contre l'existence du Dieu judéo-chrétien. Dans son livre de 1988 sur le concept de miracle, Robert Larmer propose une critique de mes arguments. J'évalue ici la force de cette critique. Je montre que la redéfinition de «miracle» que propose Larmer est circulaire; que sa distinction est spécieuse entre violer une hi naturelle et la surmonter grâce à la création ou la destruction d'énergie par Dieu; et (...) que sa tentative de montrer que les miracles sont le produit d'un être rationnel, bienfaisant et tout-puissant est inadéquate. (shrink)
As this article is published, Robert Larmer and I have been engaged in a debate that is now eighteen years long, often with gaps of many years between ripostes, about the nature and significance of miracles. The Larmer/overall oeuvre now includes six works, including the two published here. I am grateful to the editors of Dialogue for giving me the opportunity to respond to Larmer’s most recent entry in the debate.
A serious moral weakness of reproductive ‘surrogacy’ is that it can be harmful to the children who are created. This article presents a proposal for mitigating this weakness. Currently, the practice of commercial ‘surrogacy’ operates only in the interests of the adults involved , not in the interests of the child who is created. Whether ‘surrogacy’ is seen as the purchase of a baby, the purchase of parental rights, or the purchase of reproductive labor, all three views share the same (...) significant flaws. They endorse the transfer, for a fee, of the infant from the woman who gestated it to those who commissioned it, but without justifying such a transfer; they fail to demonstrate that the commissioners have any entitlement to the infant, or, for that matter, suitability to be the infant's parents; and they fail to take any notice of the infant's needs, interests, and wellbeing. A mere genetic connection is not enough to establish that the commissioners are entitled to receive the baby or that they are competent to raise it. Their good intentions, however caring, are not enough. Therefore, just as in the practice of adoption, there should be a formal institutionalized system for screening and licensing the prospective social parents, which would make the infant's needs, interests, and wellbeing paramount. I reply to several potential objections to this proposal, including the objection that genetic parents who raise their own child are not screened and licensed. (shrink)
Our universities are the locus of ongoing debates over the politics of gender, of class, of disadvantage and disability—and over the issue of “political correctness.” In _A Feminist I_ Christine Overall offers wide-ranging reflections from a first-person point of view on these issues, and on the politics of the modern university itself. In doing so she continually returns to underlying epistemological concerns. What are our assumptions about the ways in which knowledge is constructed? To what degree are our perceptions shaped (...) by our social roles and identities? In the past generation feminists have led the way in recognising the importance of such questions, and recognising too the ways in which personal experience may be an invaluable reference point in academic theory and practice. But reliance on personal experience is fraught with problems; how is one to deal with tensions between the autobiographical and the analytic? This book points the way to resolving some of those tensions, and to fruitfully sustaining others. It is a book of considerable insight, warm humanity, and genuine importance. (shrink)
This paper explores, from a feminist perspective, the justification of major surgical reshaping of the body. I define “transracialism” as the use of surgery to assist individuals to “cross” from being a member of one race to being a member of another. If transsexualism, involving the use of surgery to assist individuals to “cross” from female to male or from male to female, is morally acceptable, and if providing the medical and social resources to enable sex crossing is not morally (...) problematic, then transracialism should be morally acceptable, and providing medical and social resources to facilitate race crossing is not necessarily morallyproblematic. To explore this idea, I present and evaluate eight possible arguments that might be given against accepting transracialism, and I show that each of them is unsuccessful. (shrink)
This paper is the latest in a debate with Robert Larmer as to whether the occurrence of a miracle would provide evidence for the existence of God or against the existence of God. Whereas Larmer’s view is categorical (miracles occur and are evidence for the existence of God), mine is hypothetical (if the events typically described as miracles were to occur -- although I do not believe they do -- they would be evidence against the existence of God). The reason (...) is that miracles, if they were to occur, would be ontic, epistemic, and moral evils. (shrink)
A critical review of four recent works that reflect current conflicts and tensions among feminists regarding new reproductive technologies: In Search of Parenthood by Judith Lasker and Susan Borg; Ethics and Human Reproduction by Christine Overall; Made to Order, Patricia Spallone and Deborah Steinberg, eds. and Reproductive Technologies: Gender, Motherhood and Medicine, Michelle Stanworth, ed. Their positions are evaluated against the background of growing feminist dialogue about the future of reproduction and the bearing of reproductive innovations on such related issues (...) as racism, sexuality, motherhood and abortion. (shrink)
: Public toilets are a key part of the urban environment. This paper examines and evaluates the pervasive sex segregation, throughout North America, of public toilets. The issue is situated within a larger context—the design and management of the urban environment; larger assumptions about sexuality, reproduction, and privacy that govern that environment; and continuing compulsory sex identification and segregation which still define key areas of "public" space. I examine seven groups of arguments in favor of sex segregation, arguing that all (...) of them are inadequate. I then present reasons showing why ending the sex segregation of public toilets is justified. (shrink)
ago that thinking (along with speaking and acting) “like a woman” was taken as a matter of shame and weakness. The phrase remains an insult to any man who is accused of being “like a woman” in any respect. But the only reason the phrase ...
The “demand” for selective termination of pregnancy is a socially constructed response to prior medical interventions in women's reproductive processes, themselves dependent on cultural views of infertility.
After a brief discussion of the terms "monogamy" and "nonmonogamy," I evaluate explanations offered by different theorists for the pain that nonmonogamy can cause to the partner (especially a female partner) of a nonmonogamous person (of either sex). My suggestion is that the self, especially the female self, is conventionally defined in terms of sexual partners. I present and reply to a possible objection to this explanation, and then discuss my theory's normative implications.
Much can be learned about (old) age-identity and age-related oppression by noting their similarities to, respectively, impairment and ableism. Drawing upon the work of Shelley Tremain, I show that old age, like impairment, is not a biological given but is socially constructed, both conceptually and materially. I also describe the striking similarities and connections between ableism and ageism as systems of oppression. That disability and aging both rest upon a biological given is a fiction that functions to excuse and perpetuate (...) the very social mechanisms that perpetuate ableist and ageist oppression. (shrink)
Heterosexuality, which I define as a romantic and sexual orientation toward persons not of one's own sex, is apparently a very general, though not entirely universal, characteristic of the human condition. In fact, it is so ubiquitous a part of human interactions and relations as to be almost invisible, and so natural-seeming as to appear unquestionable. Indeed, the 1970 edition of The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘heterosexual’ as ‘pertaining to or characterized by the normal relation of the sexes.’.
As a university professor, an environmentalist, and a world-traveller, Sue Hendler was thriving. Then she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She had to give up her job, make hard decisions about medical treatment, and drastically shorten her vision of the future. As her cancer spread, she ironically acquired a new identity as a cancer "survivor." Compelled to find meaning in her "new normal" of life with a fatal disease, she decided to write for a wider audience. In Dying in (...) Public: Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, Hendler talks about her experiences of undergoing surgery, taking steroids, receiving chemotherapy, and enrolling in a clinical drug trial. As her condition worsens she remains committed to living fully. She struggles with writing a bucket list, discusses her "legacy," and talks about her feelings of anger and the importance of love. She also describes how she lived, towards the end, with the support of the members of her "Care Team," a group of over thirty friends, family, and health care workers who enabled her to remain at home until the day before her death. This honest, witty, and unsentimental depiction of "dying in public" is a profound tribute to a life well lived. (shrink)