Genetic ties: are they morally binding?

Bioethics. 2006 Apr;20(2):64-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2006.00478.x.


Does genetic relatedness define who is a mother or father and who incurs obligations towards or entitlements over children? While once the answer to this question may have been obvious, advances in reproductive technologies have complicated our understanding of what makes a parent. In a recent publication Bayne and Kolers argue for a pluralistic account of parenthood on the basis that genetic derivation, gestation, extended custody and sometimes intention to parent are sufficient (but not necessary) grounds for parenthood. Bayne and Kolers further suggest that definitions of parenthood are underpinned by the assumption that 'being causally implicated in the creation of a child is the key basis for being its parent'. This paper examines the claim that genetic relatedness is sufficient grounds for parenthood based on a causal connection between genetic parents and their offspring. I argue that parental obligations are about moral responsibility and not causal responsibility because we are not morally accountable for every consequence to which we causally contribute. My account includes the conditions generally held to apply to moral responsibility, i.e. freedom and foreseeability. I argue that parental responsibilities are generated whenever the birth of a child is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of voluntary actions. I consider the implications of this account for third parties involved in reproductive technologies. I argue that under some conditions the obligations generated by freely and foreseeably causing a child to exist can be justifiably transferred to others.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Unwanted
  • Directed Tissue Donation / ethics
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Female
  • Germ Cells*
  • Health Personnel / ethics
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Male
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents*
  • Pedigree*
  • Philosophy
  • Reproduction / ethics*
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted* / ethics
  • Surrogate Mothers
  • Tissue Donors / ethics*