Bioethics Blogs

Should We License Parents?

Many professions require state or federal licensure, including hairdressers, teachers, accountants, and physicians. The main reason we have professional licensure is to protect the clients who seek out the services of these professionals. Licenses require that professionals meet a minimum standard of knowledge and skills to certify competence in their field. Even some leisure activities require licensure, especially those that are considered potentially dangerous, such as scuba diving and hunting. 

Some have suggested that parents should also be licensed as a way of protecting their children by ensuring that have a base minimum skill set and knowledge about good parenting. The typical response to this suggestion is an emphatic no. Why is our knee jerk reaction to the idea of licensing parents to be horrified when we aren’t bothered by licenses for professional and leisure activities, some of which also involve placing the lives of others in their hands (e.g. a physician) or require developing a deeper connection between people (e.g. a teacher)? How and why is parenthood different from these other activities? 

Some argue that parenthood is different from professional and leisure activities because it is a natural and noncommercial activity that exists outside of the spheres of government and finance. Parenthood is a more basic and biological activity, one that can be found in the natural world (i.e. animals engage in parenting activity, but not the social and political activity regulated by government). 

The argument that parenthood is natural, instinctual, and predates civilized society (and can continue to exist outside of civilized society) seems odd in light of the plethora of books, websites, groups, and so on devoted to helping parents learn to be good parents.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.