Is there a duty to adopt?
Occasionally I've heard people write/say that there's a duty to adopt children, rather than procreate. I take it this is supposed to be a duty just for people who want children. Considering that there are existing children in need of parents, and considering that the world is already overpopulated, it's wrong to make new children--or so they say.
To think about this, I think it's going to help to go a bit hypothetical, because the real world situation is too complex, and some of the facts are in dispute. For example, the point about over-population is disputable. The total world population is too great, but some regional birth-rates are too low. People aren't replacing themselves, making for long-term problems with funding social programs for the elderly. The other complexity is that although there are lots of children in institutions--Scott Simon says there are a million in Chinese orphanages--there are quotas and red-tape. So there's a limit to how many people can actually fulfill their desire to be parents by adopting.
So here's the hypothetical situation. Pretend there's no population problem, and pretend there are plenty of children in need of adoption. In fact, there's an orphanage in your neighborhood. You want to be a parent. Must you adopt, rather than create a new child in that situation?
My vote is No. The main reason is because I think being a parent to a child is having a very intimate relationship with that child, and I am reluctant to think intimacy can be morally obligatory. Imagine the issue is not adopting children but "going out". Dave, the guy you like, has lots of brains and beauty, and a bubbly personality too! So if you drop Dave, he'll be fine. Dudley, on the other hand, has no brains or beauty, and he's very dull. You're his only chance. Must you go out with Dudley? No, of course not. Even if doing so would maximize utility, as the utilitarians say, you may go out with Dave.
When I subjected my husband and son to this argument, they viciously attacked me, pointing out that children are in need of adoptive parents in a much more serious way than Dudley is in need of a date. Yes, yes, yes, of course. But the point is that it is odd to think of any intimate behavior as morally obligatory. I grant that kids need a home much more than Dudley needs a kiss, but intimacies are involved in both cases, and I can't imagine intimacies being obligatory except in the most dire situation.
Now, you may say--what's so intimate about parenthood? But I hope not, because a lot is intimate about parenthood. And the intimacy of it is probably crucial--it's closely connected to the commitment people feel to their kids. It can't be my duty to enter into that intimate relationship with just any child, based on the child's need. In fact, I just may not be able to feel the right things for any child but my own. This may be narcissistic of me, but so be it--that might be the fact of the matter.
All that being said, I can imagine obligatory intimacies in very, very dire situations. The end of the world is nigh; you and Dudley are among the last remaining men and women. You don't care for Dudley, but then, there will be no more people if you don't have a "date." (Dave, as it turns out, was rendered infertile by the catastrophe that wiped out most of the human race.) Or: in that very dire situation, an abandoned child needs you (and there's no one around but you). Don't you have to become his parent?
So: "no obligatory intimacies" is not an absolute rule, but it does seem at least roughly, and in ordinary situations, correct.