Procreative Beneficence

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The advances of Reproductive Assistance Technologies (ARTs), such as In vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) have established a broad platform for debate, which until recently has focused mostly on the moral permissibility of using these technologies for the detection of non-disease genes, those which cause a physical or psychological state not associated with disease, such as sex and tissue type (Stoller 2008, 364). However, in his article “Procreative Beneficence: Why we should select the best children” Savulescu widened the scope of this debate, arguing that the use of PGD in this manner is not only morally acceptable but a moral obligation for prospective parents. He contends that all genetic information, both disease and non-disease, should be utilised to ensure prospective parents have the best child that it is possible for them to have. This essay argues that Savulescu is incorrect in his assertion that prospective parents should have the best child it is possible for them to have and his Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PPB) should therefore be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, the principle indirectly, yet unavoidably, impacts on various aspects of the reproductive autonomy of prospective parents and is therefore immoral in what it advocates. Secondly, since PPB has its theoretical foundation in the notion of impersonal harm (Bennett 2009, 266), and requires parents to become complacent with oppression of minority groups, it unavoidably parallels the motives of the “old” eugenics of the 1930’s (Sparrow 2007, 51). Finally, Savulescu not only over exaggerates the moral obligation parents have toward their children in his account of PPB, but also fails to adequately prove that his believed moral obligation truly exists, and thus his argument loses its credibility with prospective parents.

Savulescu defines his PPB as:

Couples (or single reproducers) should select the child, of all possible children they could have, who is expected to have the best life, or at least as good a life as the others, based on the relevant and available information. (Savulescu 2001, 415)

It denotes a moral obligation for prospective parents to use genetic information, where genetic testing is available, to ensure they select the best embryo that it is possible for them to have. The genetic information required by PPB, however, is not limited to those genes pertaining only to disease. Savulescu instead demands that non-disease genes, those such as intelligence, height and memory, should also be utilized and treated with equal importance during our reproductive decision making; the impact of non-disease genes on an individual’s ability to lead the best life is as significant as the that of disease genes. It is important to note, however, that while PPB does advocate for selecting the best, which for the most part will mean selecting against embryos carrying disease genes, it does not stipulate that an individual with disease should never be selected. Moreover, while Savulescu holds PPB as a moral obligation, he insists his use of “should” is to be seen as representing justifiable persuasion, not coercion; the prospective parent should, he argues, have the freedom to make any reproductive choice they wish, even if it is deemed to be the wrong one.

Savulescu’s proposal that parents should have the best child that it is possible for them to have is problematic for a number of reasons. However, perhaps the most obvious of these is arguably the impact that a moral obligation of this nature has on various aspects of the reproductive autonomy afforded to prospective parents. Firstly, the only way prospective parents would be able to ensure they meet the moral obligation of PPB would require their utilisation of various expensive and dangerous ARTs, such as IVF and PGD (Melo Martin 2004, 73). There are, however, numerous convincing reasons as to why a prospective parent may not wish to,...
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