There is a slow-moving debate over at the Journal of Medical Ethics on whether it is moral or immoral to desire to be biologically related to one’s children. While many might find this preposterous, it appears more sensible if it is compared to racism. People nowadays are troubled by the notion that we should have more affection for people who look like us. Why should parental affection be treated differently?
The question seems to be sparked by uneasiness over the legal and moral status of reproductive technologies. IVF, for instance, makes it possible to raise children whose link to at least one of their biological parents is non-existent. Does this matter?
Rebecca Roache, a lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, argued a couple of years ago that:
the wish to be biologically related to one's children—like the wish to associate only within one's racial group—can have harmful effects. The wish to associate only with members of one's own race can (and does) result in people being denied important opportunities on account of their race. And the wish to be biologically related to one's children means that the vast majority of aspiring parents create new babies, despite there being millions of existing children without families in need of adoption or foster care; as a result, aspiring parents' preference for biological relatedness to their children leads to existing parentless children being denied the opportunity of a family.
Another scholar, J. David Velleman, countered in Philosophical Papers that “it is immoral to create children with the intention that they be alienated from their biological relatives—for example, by donor conception” – an assertion that Roache dismissed as “ unhelpful armchair philosophy”.
Attacking the problem from a different angle, Ezio Di Nucci, of the University of Copenhagen, argues in JME that the racism angle doesn’t hold water, but the desire for biologically related children is still “morally illegitimate”, although it is just a “moral vice” which does not call out for government regulation. He argued elsewhere a couple of years ago that this desire is obnoxiously patriarchal. “Liberation [from the patriarchy] requires the establishment of fair and equal parental projects where biological ties do not play any role in the distribution of roles, responsibility, and ultimately power.”
Footnote: One example of the desire for biological relatedness comes from the Australian media. Max Delmege, a 72-year-old millionaire and his 34-year-old wife Sam, have laid open their personal lives on television as they struggle to have an IVF child. Over the past three years they have had three miscarriages, 11 IVF cycles and spent more than A$100,000. “I just do it because I have to, if I want to have a baby, I just have to do it,” Sam told the media.
This article is published by
and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines
. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us
for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.