Harm to Future Persons

Many different theories have been offered to identify the circumstances in which reproductive behavior can cause harm to future persons. Each theory identifies a different vantage point from which to understand the interests of future persons. Collectively, they provide a useful set of tools for evaluating the impact of a novel reproductive technology.

At the outset, the inquiry into harmfulness requires a definition of what it means to harm someone. Under conventional analysis, harmful conduct is conduct that makes a person worse off than he otherwise would have been (Fishkin). Lawyers call this a "but for" test because it asks whether the victim would have avoided injury but for the conduct in dispute. Although this test can sometimes be applied to reproductive behavior without any novel difficulties, its application is often complicated by the fact that the injuries believed to be harmful could not have been avoided except by preventing the child from being born at all. A child conceived by cloning, for example, owes his life to this technology. When a disputed act is existence inducing, the only alternative to life with the disability caused by the existence-inducing technology is no life at all. If the conventional test for harmfulness is used, then the disability-causing technology is not harmful unless life with the disability is worse than the alternative—never existing at all. This comparison does pose special problems.

The remainder of this entry begins by exploring the simplest cases—those in which the traditional test of harmfulness seems most apt. The entry then examines the application of this test to injuries that are inextricably associated with life itself and reviews some alternatives that have been suggested to the comparison between life and nonexistence. Finally, it examines the dilemma posed when parents or clinics have a choice between two alternative paths to reproduction, one of which is safer than another.

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