Tax parenthood to save the world says top surgeon: New book proposes radical curbs to rising global population

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The Independent Online
COUPLES should have to apply for a licence to have children and there should be a tax penalty for parents who have more than two offspring, according to proposals on population control by a leading surgeon, himself a father of six.

Professor Sir Roy Calne, 64, a world-renowned transplant surgeon and leading figure of the British medical establishment, also discusses the creation of a virus - 'the 'O' virus, a hypothetical fertility limiter' - in a controversial book out this month.

Other disincentives to procreation include an age limit on parenting and compulsory 'pre- parenting' counselling, which begins at school for people who want to have children.

Professor Calne is contrite about his own contribution to the population explosion and says that if he was marrying today, he would not be planning a family of six. But it is no longer reasonable to reproduce when the 'whim' takes you, he explains, adding that he loves all his children. 'They are grown up now and gainfully employed; they are not a drain on the state.'

Too many people are draining both the 'global' state and the planet, says Professor Calne, who has saved hundreds of lives in his career. He makes no apology for his views. 'We are on a disaster course. World population stands at 5 billion. There is not much time left. This is the reason I have had the audacity to examine these matters,' he said yesterday. Mass migration and worldwide conflict are the most likely outcome if governments fail to act, he believes.

His book, Too Many People, was prompted in part by a visit to Bombay and by the debate surrounding his own speciality, transplant surgery, where costly high- tech medicine is needed to save a single life. Professor Calne pioneered transplantation for children at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, and in March completed the first six organ transplant in Britain.

'(The book) was really precipitated by people saying transplantation was a waste of money; why should we spend so much money on a few people when there are so many terrible things happening in the world?' said Professor Calne. 'I was thinking about this when I was in Bombay where 1 million people around the airport are in the most dreadful poverty and this prompted me to start writing about it.

'There are so many interacting facets it became quite difficult - religion, human nature, politics, economics and the biology of reproduction and contraception. I homed in on what I do know about and my main thesis, though not particularly original, is that most of our troubles are due to scientific advances and the use of science without really knowing where it's going to go.'

Radical forms of birth control may be the only answer, he argues in the book, which carries a foreword by his close friend, Terry Waite. He proposes a population control laboratory where the world's experts would resolve the problems man has created for himself. The laboratory should be situated in Delhi, Manila, Cairo or Rio, 'somewhere that those coming to work each day would be reminded of the problems', Professor Calne said.

The aim of his book is to inform the layman and persuade politicians to act now. 'It is a serious attempt to warn the average man that the application of science has radically changed the relationship of man to other creatures,' he said.

'My proposed solution is to use the highly successful scientific method applied to each and all of the subjects discussed to try and reconcile our new knowledge with the rest of the world.'

And despite his doubts of the value of his own work on a global scale, it is not something he will be giving up. 'On a personal and professional level I see myself with my Hippocratic hat on; you do your best for your patient regardless of whether you like them or their lifestyle. As a citizen of the world, I wear a more 'fearful' hat.'

Too Many People; Calder Publications; published on 25 August.