What does it mean to be a genetic parent?

In a world where assisted reproduction is becoming increasingly common, bioethicists are beginning to ask the question: “what counts as genetic parenthood?”.

It is tempting to think that genetic parenthood is about sharing half of one’s genes with another person. But this alone is not enough. Imagine a situation in which you had an identical twin, and your twin had a child. The child of your identical twin would share half of your genes. But would this make you their parent as well? Our intuitions tell us “no”.

In a new article in The Philosophical Quarterly, State University of New York philosopher Monika Pitrowska attempts to offer an account genetic parenthood that deals some of the complexities of the parent-offspring relationship. According to Pitrowska, there are three criteria that must be met for something to count as genetic parenthood: overlap, development, and persistence.

Readers may consult the article for a full development of the argument. Yet to provide a basic summary, Pitrowska argues that mere genetic similarity, or causal relationships between parents and children, are insufficient as a definition of parenthood. An vital feature of genetic parenthood is the passage of genetic material from one generation down through several successive generations. Pitrowska develops an definition that tracks this specific feature of parenthood.

As Pitrowska observes, the question of genetic parenthood is more than an esoteric, philosophical matter. While assisted reproduction has transformed society’s understanding of the family unit, our concern to know our genealogy remains. Furthermore, in a world where we are questioning whether mitochondrial replacement therapy creates three parent babies, or whether surrogates have a genetic link to the children they bear, it is important to achieve conceptual clarity.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | parenthood, surrogacy, three parent babies, womb transplant

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