The limits of ‘procreative liberty’


John Robertson was an American scholar in law and bioethics who died last year. He is best known for making a strong case for “procreative liberty”, whether procreation takes place naturally or with the help of technology. As a tribute to his influence, the current issue of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences contains several articles about this theory.  

Robertson’s theme was that reproductive choices which do not harm the interests of others should not be subject to regulation or prohibition. In his best-known book, Children of Choice, published in 1996, he discussed abortion, IVF, surrogacy and pre-natal genetic modification. But time has moved on. The principle of effectively unconstrained “procreative liberty” is being used to justify other developments, some of which are discussed in the Journal, including unisex gestation.  

What I found interesting was that Robertson, in a paper written not long before his death, agreed that a male pregnancy (after a womb transplant) could be ethically justified, but only if it were necessary for genetic reproduction. Even he wanted to draw a line somewhere.

However, the author of one of tribute essays questions this restriction. Enjoying the experience of gestation is reason enough, she says. (See below). I suppose that this raises the question of whether it is possible to draw any lines, anywhere, once we agree that reproductive rights should not be limited.




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