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Choosing Our Children: Role Obligations and the Morality of Reproductive Selection


Advancements in reproductive technology have expanded the influence that parents can have on their children. Pre-implantation screening and selection, prenatal screening and selective abortion, and fetal gene therapy now make it possible for parents to select features of their children, even before those children are born. Reproductive selection has most frequently been used to select against disabilities. However, procreators have now begun to use reproductive selection to select for disabilities, such as deafness and dwarfism. Though parents are often afforded a special moral permission to determine many aspects of their children’s lives, that permission does not obviously include a permission to select for disabilities in their future children.

I argue for a role-based framework to address the morality of using reproductive selection to select for disabilities. Procreators are not unrelated to their offspring; they are often the prospective parents of their offspring. Insofar as procreators procreate in order to become parents, they assume the role of parent and its subsequent obligations. The parental role has a moral end, namely, the facilitation of the child's future autonomy. Parental obligations are keyed to this end. As prospective parents, procreators are also obligated to facilitate the autonomy of their future children. Procreators are prohibited, then, from selecting traits for their children that would impose obstacles to their children's autonomy. Insofar as a disability is an impediment to autonomy, it is not a trait that procreators have a permission to choose on behalf of their offspring.

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