Bioethics News

Biological ties are unimportant, says bioethicist

The search for one’s “real” father or “real” mother is a motif not only of yesteryear’s literature but today’s news. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Pericles, Fielding’s Tom Jones, or Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker draw on the same anxieties as AnonymousUs, a website for children of sperm donors, and the unexpected parentage of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But is that feeling good or bad, justifiable or unjustifiable? An ethical evaluation of much of contemporary assisted reproduction rests on the answer.

The Journal of Medical Ethics today published a sturdy defence of the idea that genetic parentage is not intrinsically valuable by Ezio Di Nucci, of the University of Copenhagen.

Di Nucci begins by disputing an article by J. David Velleman, of New York University, in Philosophical Papers. In the way of philosophers, it is described as a “recent” paper, but it was published in 2010. Velleman, the descendant of Russian Jews who emigrated to the United States, tried to make sense of our attachment to our genetic heritage. He argued, basically, that knowing our forebears helps us to make sense of our own identity and he concluded that “donor conception is wrong”.

Adoptees can certainly find meaningful roles for themselves in the stories of their adoptive families. Even so, they seem to have the sense of not knowing important stories about themselves, and of therefore missing some meaning implicit in their lives, unless and until they know their biological origins.

Di Rucci’s immediate focus is on IVF with ROPA (Reception of Oocytes from Partner), in which one partner in a lesbian relationship provides the eggs and the other gestates the baby.

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.