Child welfare 2: the welfare of an unborn child is nonsense

If a child does not exist, what meaning can its “welfare” have? This is the unsettling question posed by the Norwegian writer B. Solberg in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The immediate application is to children born from IVF. Legislation governing IVF often stipulates that the welfare of the child is paramount. But this, in Solberg’s view, is nonsense if the child does not even exist. Certainly children born in the traditional way may have “interests”, but not ones whom we create. “Potential children seem to be outside morality,” he says.

The really important people in such situations are the progenitors. “Assisted reproduction is primarily about us, actual people in an actual society, and how potential children may affect us,” he contends. So the proposed criteria is “whether a certain parental project is meaningful and doable or whether it is futile”. IVF children for drug addicts is out, but in for gay couples, saviour siblings, sex selection and so on. The focus should be on whether creating a child will result in a “functional family”.

What about the morality of cloned or genetically-enhanced children? The principal argument against cloning for many bioethicists is that it has not been perfected yet and will result in defective children. Solberg brushes this issue aside. Cloning would not make parenthood dysfunctional, and thus it would not be unethical. The main thing, however, is to jettison the illogical notion of the welfare of the child and to “focus on what really matters — our intentions to become functional parents and the meaning of the parental project.” ~ Journal of Medical Ethics, June

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