Procreative beneficence: why we should select the best children

Bioethics. 2001 Oct;15(5-6):413-26. doi: 10.1111/1467-8519.00251.


Eugenic selection of embryos is now possible by employing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). While PGD is currently being employed for the purposes of detecting chromosomal abnormalities or inherited genetic abnormalities, it could in principle be used to test any genetic trait such as hair colour or eye colour. Genetic research is rapidly progressing into the genetic basis of complex traits like intelligence and a gene has been identified for criminal behaviour in one family. Once the decision to have IVF is made, PGD has few 'costs' to couples, and people would be more inclined to use it to select less serious medical traits, such as a lower risk of developing Alzheimer Disease, or even for non-medical traits. PGD has already been used to select embryos of a desired gender in the absence of any history of sex-linked genetic disease. I will argue that: (1) some non-disease genes affect the likelihood of us leading the best life; (2) we have a reason to use information which is available about such genes in our reproductive decision-making; (3) couples should select embryos or fetuses which are most likely to have the best life, based on available genetic information, including information about non-disease genes. I will also argue that we should allow selection for non-disease genes even if this maintains or increases social inequality. I will focus on genes for intelligence and sex selection. I will defend a principle which I call Procreative Beneficence: couples (or single reproducers) should select the child, of the 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, available information.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence*
  • Child
  • Counseling
  • Decision Making
  • Disabled Children
  • Embryo Transfer*
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Eugenics
  • Fertilization in Vitro
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Research
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genetics, Behavioral
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Parents
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Preimplantation Diagnosis*
  • Reproduction*