Bioethics Blogs

Good Enough Lives – Procreative Satisficence

By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics


Should parents undertake prenatal testing? Is there a moral reason to prevent disability in your future child through embryo selection?

In a special Moral Philosophy Seminar yesterday evening, Professor Tom Shakespeare, from the University of East Anglia, gave a nuanced and multi-faceted argument against the arguments advanced by Julian Savulescu and Jeff McMahan in favour of embryo selection. In particular he attacked Julian’s Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PB)

Procreative Beneficence (shortened version): when considering different possible children, based on relevant available information, couples should select the child who is expected to have the best life*

Tom rejected some arguments against PB. For example, he was keen to emphasise that he supported parents right to choose not to continue a pregnancy where the fetus would have significant disability. He does not feel that such decisions necessarily express the view that lives with disability are not worth living (the ‘expressivist’ objection against abortion or embryo selection). He also distanced himself from the view that disabilities are a ‘mere difference’, and simply a neutral characteristic – like hair or eye colour.

However, Shakespeare also gave a strong argument against there being a moral duty for parents to select embryos without a genetic marker for disability. He cited evidence that many disabled individuals (including some with severe cognitive impairment) live fulfilling, rich lives and are as happy as non-disabled individuals. He challenged the implicit genetic determinism in embryo selection – there are, he claimed, many other factors that contribute to how well a life goes, including the social setting, and upbringing and as well as the influence of chance events in the child’s future.

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.