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Human Genetic Selection and Enhancement

Parental Perspectives and Law

Marta Soniewicka and Wojciech Lewandowski

Among all human practices, procreation seems the most paradoxical. It starts as a fully personal choice and ends with the creation of a new subject of rights and responsibilities. Advances in reproductive genetics pose new ethical and legal questions. They are expected to prevent the transmission of genetic diseases to progeny and also to improve genetically-endowed mental and physical attributes. Genetic selection and enhancement may affect a child’s identity, as well as the parent-child relationship. The authors are committed to a pluralistic approach that captures all aspects of this relationship in terms of moral virtues and principles. They elucidate that most of the conflicts between parental preferences and a child’s rights could be resolved with reference to the meaning and nature of procreation.

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4 Reproductive harm


4.1 Introduction: the ‘harm principle’

One of the core values in liberal-democratic societies is freedom (or autonomy). This accounts for the appearance, within the domain of reproduction, of arguments focusing on the protection of reproductive autonomy (see Chapters 1 and 12) as a key principle defining the boundaries of legal interventions within the sphere of procreation. By acknowledging that every legal intervention in our lives, by definition, limits our freedom, and, further, that the legal interventions that can be justified are those whose sole end is to prevent people from being harmed by others, we are in effect agreeing with a principle formulated by John Stuart Mill which, in his view, was entitled to:

[G];overn absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. (…) A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. (…) To make any one answerable for doing evil...

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