Wrongful Life?

In the last issue of Commonweal, my fellow columnist Barbara Whitehead wrote about the ambivalent reactions of now-grown children conceived by artificial insemination -donor. The Linacre Centre, a Catholic bioethics institute in England, has just announed the publication of a book entitled Who Am I?, which also outlines the largely negative reactions of people who came into existence in this way.

Whitehead suggests that this data may give us reason to "hit the breaks" --. It's not clear what she means, but it may include banning such procedures.

I understand the concern with AI-Donor, but I am also concerned with the form of the argument. These children have problems with their lives -- but the alternative for them isn't life with both their natural parents --it's non- life -- non-existence. They wouldn't exist if these procedures hadn't been performed. In essense, to run this particular argument against AI-D, we're running something that looks an awful lot like a wrongful life argument.

This argument based on experience is a dangerous argument. Not necessarily incorrect , but dangerous. It's something that can easily be turned in directions that I don't think the Linacre Centre would endorse, nor Whitehead. What would they say if someone gathered together a collection of people who lived with various disabilities, who said that they found life difficult -- as a means of arguing that women over 35 should be discouraged from having children? What would they if someone talked to a bunch of people who came from big families, who said that they missed unique parental attention? More prosaically, what would they say if they gathered together a bunch of teenagers who said that their lives were diminished because they weren't at the socio-economic level of their peers? Furthermore, in a society that counts abortion as one of the morally available options, finding out you're pregnant under one of those conditions may give you a good reason to have an abortion. My view: Arguments are like snakes. Unless handled carefully, they can come around to bite you.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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