Reproduction and ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L083-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 16, 2021, from

5. Welfare considerations

What about, in particular, ‘the welfare of the child’, the consideration which, in practice, has pre-eminently been appealed to in resolving disputes when surrogacy agreements have broken down? This undoubtedly goes beyond the debates about the various adults’ rights but it is not, thereby, a consideration independent of the facts that are appealed to in those debates. For, it may be said, it is in the best interests of any child not only to be wanted and loved by two adults, but also for its mother’s love to spring from the natural bond that exists between the child and the mother who carries it and gives birth to it and, even further, for it to have the opportunity to know, and, we hope, love, its genetic parents. But these considerations resolve a surrogacy-agreement breakdown adequately (if that) only in the particular case in which the surrogate child is the genetic offspring of the surrogate mother and her partner and they decide mutually they want to keep the child. Otherwise, the decision has to be over the circumstances in which the child will be least disadvantaged.

That surrogacy and, indeed, AID, egg and embryo donation are all methods of overcoming infertility that, arguably, lead to the production of a disadvantaged child probably forms the strongest basis for those who are morally opposed to them all. Common claims that they are all unnatural, or introduce a third party into what should be ‘the exclusive relationship between wife and husband’, thus undermining the family, tend to fall foul of the obvious counter that few things are more ‘natural’, or more affirmative of the value of family life, than a couple’s desire to have a child. But no-one thinks that this natural, proper, and in some cases, quite consuming, desire can, morally, be satisfied by any means. You cannot steal a child in order to have one, and, it may be said, you cannot set about bringing a disadvantaged child into the world in order to have one either.

The extent to which different methods of overcoming infertility produce, or would produce, a disadvantaged child is usually thought to vary. As I write, many people in Britain have said that it would be a terrible thing for a child to know that its ‘mother’ was an aborted foetus and, on those grounds, supported legislation designed to forbid any future use of the ova already present in female foetuses. It is important to remember in cases such as these that the very existence of the child whose welfare would be at stake depends on the decision taken. The choice here, for example, is not between existence with a foetus as mother and existence without, but between existence with a foetus as mother and nonexistence. However, egg donation by mature women, embryo donation and AID, when uncomplicated by surrogacy, often pass unquestioned – though the recent discovery that an unscrupulous doctor at an infertility clinic in America was the genetic father of hundreds of children, having used his own sperm to fertilize all his patients, gave some people pause for thought.

Considerations of what sort of life a child produced in certain circumstances will have may also form the basis of adverse moral judgments of people’s selfishness and irresponsibility. Many condemned a fifty-nine-year-old woman who chose to have a child by IVF (though the same judgment is rarely passed on even older men who father children), and some insist that people carrying certain genes should get themselves sterilized and resign themselves to childlessness or adoption. It is sometimes even said that it is selfish and irresponsible of pregnant women to reject screening for genetic abnormality or to reject abortion when it is identified; but whether this is so surely depends on their reasons for the rejections. If they think, for instance, that the genetic abnormality does not prevent one’s life being a good one (perhaps because they or their partner have it themselves), or if they think that abortion, at least in their circumstances, is wrong, then they have a good reason for not trying to ‘maximize happiness’ on this occasion (see Utilitarianism).

Citing this article:
Hursthouse, Rosalind. Welfare considerations. Reproduction and ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L083-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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