Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!
Many (if not all) of us at one time or another ask "Why am I here?" The simple answer, though it appears trite, is that we are each here because our parents made us. When we ask the question, "Why am I here?" what we are actually asking is, "Why do I let myself exist?" None of us gets to choose the fact of our existence, that decision is made for us. We can only choose to end our existence, we do not get to choose if it begins.
The alternate question to "Why am I here?" is "What is my purpose in life?" Throughout my battle with depression, both questions were an almost daily battle. Fortunately that battle is over. Even though I no longer wanted to end my existence, I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. I've since discovered my purpose, and it has led to a paradox. My purpose is to be a Father, a family man. The best damned Dad and Husband I can be. It may be a simple answer, but it rings true for me at this point and time, and I am content with that.
However, to accomplish my purpose, I have brought two additional lives into being that have had the weight of existence put on their shoulders. If the genetics hold true, one or both of my sons will almost certainly be battling depression in their teens as well. But for that I hope I can be mentor and guide and help them through that.
What concerns me is the quality of life they may have that is beyond my control. If (as I often post about) environmental armageddon or social financial ruin is nigh, why did I bring two children into the world to face that bleak future? My former daily battle over my own existence is now a regular question about my children's. Note, I am not in any way considering ending their lives for them. That is now their choice as individuals. I can only fret as all parents do about what the future holds for them. I no longer have any right to any choices about the fact of their existence. But what I can endlessly worry to no effect is, did I make the right choice when I agreed to form our family?
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Unconsciously I have hope that things will not turn out as bad I think they will be. My faith in humanity is strong enough that I hope things will turn out fine. As an atheist, that concept raises a wry chuckle. In the thought experiment, Peter Singer muses about a collective human decision to end humanity. However this mass extinction excludes a valid option. For those that do believe that bleak times are ahead, they can choose to stay childless. As it is each our choice to continue our own existences, we can only choose to have or not to have children.
Humanity will still survive as best it can. Even if all of the citizens in first world western nations decided to remain childless and end their countries' existence, it would not mean the end of all humanity. For those that want to avoid the guilt of bringing children into harsh times, and yet believe humanity should continue; by making a personal commitment to being childless, they get to eat their cake and have it too. I oftentimes wonder if that is the choice I should have made. Which choice would have been more selfless? Not being a father, or being a father?