Can the Principle of Procreative Beneficence Justify the Non-Medical Use of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis?

Biplab Kumar Halder, Memorial University of Newfoundland


The Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PB) is a pronatal view in reproductive ethics which was originally formulated by Julian Savulescu in his paper “Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children”. Further development of the principle was done in another paper titled “The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life” in collaboration with Guy Kahane. The principle states that the parents have a moral obligation to select the best possible child, when selection is possible, by means of the genetic screening of the embryos. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a reproductive technology that makes it possible to discover the medical and non-medical genetic traits of embryos. PB justifies employing PGD not only for medical reasons, but also for non-medical reasons. Moral controversy arises when PGD is employed in order to select the preferred sex or certain genetic traits such as the intelligence of the child. The central inquiry of the paper is to find out whether non-medical use of PGD can be justified by PB proposed by Julian Savulescu. To explore this issue, I put forward the question: can PB make such a strong claim that the parents have a moral obligation to select the best possible child by employing PGD? In other words, what are the justifications of PB for claiming a moral obligation for the parents? I argue against the pro-selection view of Julian Savulescu exploring the basic assumptions and moral justification of PB. PB presumes that the non-medical and medical use of PGD are mutually inclusive in the question of a moral obligation for the parents. However, I show that this is not the case if we consider the possible consequences of PGD in the potential life of the child; the non-medical and medical use of PGD are mutually exclusive in terms of their implication on the child. PB also presumes a degree of parental obligation in its concept of ‘significant moral reason’ in the case of employing PGD which is morally problematic. Finally, I argue that the moral foundation of PB is based on the ‘common moral intuition’ which is not an authentic source of a moral truth; hence, PB is not justified to claim a moral obligation for the prospective parents regarding the non-medical use of PGD.