Church v state on population policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am


The Philippines is the most populous Catholic country in Asia. China is the most populous country in the world. It's interesting to observe their diametrically opposed government policies on birth control.

Manila, sensibly, wants to pass a long overdue birth control law that would allow government clinics to provide advice on family planning and greater access to free contraceptives.

The country has the highest birth rate in Southeast Asia and 40 per cent of its population lives in poverty. A packet of condoms can cost a family what it earns in a week. Predictably, the Catholic Church is vehemently opposed to the proposed legislation.

The church says we must uphold the sanctity of life, a wholly admirable doctrine widely acknowledged by historians and theologians as the basis of the modern notion of human rights. But the church takes it too far. As the sperm song in the classic Monty Python comedy The Meaning of Life puts it: 'Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.'

Neither Confucianism nor Chinese communism holds such quixotic beliefs. That may explain why modern China has such an atrocious human rights record. The modern Chinese state has a wholly pragmatic, not to say ruthless, attitude towards overpopulation.

Under the one-child policy, birth control is not an option but a state-sanctioned requirement. Forced sterilisation and abortion are still being carried out, as revealed by the detained legal activist and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng .

The one-child policy may have outlived its usefulness and need to be amended. But given the economic rise of China and the stagnation of the Philippines, it's interesting to ponder whether state-enforced birth control or the lack of it ultimately contributes more to the welfare or misery of their citizens.