Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Parental Choice And What We Owe To Our Children” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 37-72.
Glover starts by claiming that reproductive autonomy or whether or not to have a child is accepted throughout much of the world with exceptions as follows:
1. Religious objections to contraception.
2. Religious or moral objections to abortion.
3. Some would restrict autonomy where it requires access to techniques of assisted reproduction.
He seems to reject these reasons for infringement on parental autonomy including that for population control as in China. In this chapter, he explores the question of whether autonomy extends only to the question of having a child or if that extension should apply to what kind of child to have.
He argues in the second section of the chapter that the hope to have child without disability us unproblematic from the point of view of the child, procreative liberty, in this sense, is not in conflict with what we owe our children. As far as potential children not conceived, he claims that we do not owe them anything because they are even a potential third party viz. if I choose not to have a child because thallosemia, no rights have been infringed. Many argue that we should accept children into the world unconditionally regardless of disability. Glover does not think it is wrong to want a child without disability so he rejects the denial of prenatal intervention on those grounds.
The third sections opens up with the basic view ethics concerning positive and negative rights:
1. Sometimes we owe others not to act in certain ways.
2. Sometimes we owe others to act in certain ways.
One of the first appeals here is to Thomas Scanlon, “…we aspire to justify our decisions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject. If they can reasonably reject our decisions then we are subject to their reproach. He then makes the distinction between doing harm when it could be avoided and not acting when you could reasonably protect someone from harm. By accepting that we are responsible, somewhat to the future children in creating policies or making individual choice we are saying that different people will be born than otherwise would be the case. Morality then is more than what we owe people. Is it a question of morality to bring one child into the world with less of a chance to a flourishing life than another with a greater chance even if both are happy to be alive? One of the issues of reproductive ethics is what our decisions do to the world (non-Identity principle) in addition to the individual. Glover seems to make a deontological move at the end when deciding correct action for a deaf child being born (p. 50). Selecting for a deaf embryo is, he argues, is more justified than a potentially hearing child made deaf.
The next section explores the following two questions concerning what we owe our children:
1. What we owe our children has to do with their having good lives.
2. What we owe our children has to do with respecting their autonomy.
His first claim is that no child being born with a life worth living has been harmed by being born. Glover then explores the ‘zero-line’ approach or the line just above ‘very terrible’ to answer the question of whether or not it is justified to have a child at this level. We should check out Julian Savulescu’s Principle of Procreative Beneficence, the idea that couples should select the child of all the possible children they could have that will have the best chance to a good life or at least as good a life as other based on available information. Glover suggests that medical, social, and economic factors may be components in determining the criteria for a good life. He then argues that passive exclusive is also a form of injustice and that equality of opportunity is seen as requiring action to reduce socially caused disadvantage. Previously, inborn differences were seen as independent of what justice society provides but genetic technology makes this less so. Genetic intervention against disability can increase a child’s chance for flourishing. Therefore, parental freedom should be constrained only by limits the potential flourishing of their child whether that is limited by poverty or by disability. Does this mean that poor people should not have children? He does call for a balance between parental freedom and flourishing of the child but it seems that by including some social factors, he is setting his argument up to serious objections. It will be good to explore the ‘zero-line’ philosophy he is arguing. Is this not just one-step above ‘very terrible’?
The section of the chapter focuses on identity and autonomy. He appeals to Kant to claim that to be treated merely as a means versus and end in and of themselves, there has to be some violation of autonomy or denial of some respect owed. He does state that the fetus and newborn do not have the capacity for choice so the issue of respecting the child’s autonomy does not arise at either stage. This may be problematic if we consider that future autonomy may be affected by choices made prior to the development of that capacity to choose. He rejects the idea of true independence and self-creation because of our ties to both genes and environment thereby limiting the right to an open future. I agree that certain choices away from disability may actually increase the openness of a potential future but that genetic intervention may be problematic in controlling how others control that future. I also agree with Habermas that genetic intervention will alter our self-understanding but that does entail a significant or negative effect compared to our current capacity for self-understanding. Glover does say that too much genetic intervention may make us feel like puppets to our parent but that some loss of independence may be a worthwhile price to pay.
Hyman from Oxford to UCL
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