Criminality of Begetting

To act in such a way that, as a consequence of one’s action, someone necessarily dies is (except in cases of self-defence) considered to be acting criminally. In order, then, to distinguish actions as a consequence of which an already-existing human being must die (real criminality) from actions as a consequence of which some additionally-arising human being must die, we speak of a “criminality of begetting”. There would belong to the general class of acts falling under the rubric “criminality of begetting” also all types of action ancillary to this latter, from the performing of artificial-insemination measures through to midwife services.

Fernand Calmettes on Léon Dierx

„… he will say to them that there is really only one form of crime which comprises the origin of all other crimes: namely, the crime of offering up victims to life, of allowing children to come into the world.”[1]

Mayreder (1858–1938)

A good sense for what constitutes “the criminality of begetting” is displayed by Mayreder when she writes of the offence of conception as a symmetrical form of the offence of homicide: “Since it counts as a crime to take life away from a human being, is it less of a crime to give life to him?” (Mayreder, Zur Kritik der Weiblichkeit, S. 192) People, who premeditatedly beget another human being do not just impose countless ills upon the begotten person but also arrange things so that, in one way or another, a human being loses their life. In her memoirs of her youth Mayreder describes how – despite a mistrust of and rebellion against her own father – she did not succeed in recognizing, herself, this “criminal offence of begetting” but had to have this aspect of the matter pointed out to her by a young friend. What Mayreder presents to us in her Critique of Fatherhood as her own insight was in fact nothing to which she felt, emotionally, inclined although, rationally, she could not but concur with this insight: “Despite the inner resistance I felt to paternal despotism within our family no thought so heretical as that of calling my father’s moral right to beget children into question ever crossed my mind. Imagine my shock, then, when a young man from a rather more exalted social circle than our own one day, in my presence, raised the question: ‘with what right do fathers bring children into the world and impose on them the expectation that they should endure existence in it – indeed even that they should show gratitude to their parents for this thoughtless and arbitrary deed? If it generally counts as a crime to take the life of a human being, is it really less bad to give such a human being life?” I was stunned to be presented with this way of looking at things: it seemed to me fundamentally false and yet at the same time irrefutable, provided only one ceased unthinkingly to feel and perceive life itself to be an incomparably valuable >Gift (Rosa Mayreder, Das Haus in der Landskrongasse)

[1] „… il vous dira qu’une seule forme de crime existe qui contient en elle l’origine de tous les autres, le crime de livrer des victimes à la vie, de faire naître des enfants…“ (In: Fernand Calmettes, Leconte de Lisle et ses amis, Librairies-Imprimeries réunies, Paris 1902, S. 155)

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