Reproductive autonomy as self-making: procreative liberty and the practice of ethical subjectivity

J Med Philos. 2013 Dec;38(6):639-56. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jht046.


In this article, I consider recent debates on the notion of procreative liberty, to argue that reproductive freedom can be understood as a form of positive freedom-that is, the freedom to make oneself according to various ethical and aesthetic principles or values. To make this argument, I draw on Michel Foucault's later work on ethics. Both adopting and adapting Foucault's notion of ethics as a practice of the self and of liberty, I argue that reproductive autonomy requires enactment to gain meaning within the life contexts of prospective parents. Thus, I propose a shift away from the standard negative model of freedom that sees it solely as a matter of noninterference or nonimpedance, a view advocated by major commentators such as John Harris and John Robertson. Instead, reproduction should be understood as a deeply personal project of self-making that integrates both negative and positive freedom.

Keywords: Michel Foucault; autonomy; ethics of the self; reproductive liberty.

MeSH terms

  • Cloning, Organism / ethics
  • Freedom*
  • Genetic Enhancement / ethics
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Politics
  • Reproductive Rights / ethics*