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Genethics: Moral Issues in the Creation of People.

This is intended to be a foundational study in what the author claims is a new branch of ethics, "genethics," which has as its distinctive subject matter three sorts of questions: Should some human being or group of human beings come into existence? If so, how many? Of these, what should they be like? Heyd maintains that these questions are posed for the first time, or in a distinctive way, because of developments in biotechnology, and that they cannot be resolved within any of the major types of ethical theory. Contractarian theory is useless, for either we include future generations as parties to the contract or not: if we do, we suppose their existence and beg the question; if we do not, then we are bound to appeal to noncontractarian considerations. Kantian theory obliges us to treat persons as ends, but genethics is concerned with the prior question of whether there should be persons to treat thus. Moreover, principles of respect and autonomy, as well as the categorical imperative, seem to have no natural application to genethic cases. Utilitarianism both in its total- and average-welfare maximizing forms is beset with familiar difficulties. Heyd mentions Aristotelian virtue ethics only to dismiss it as a viewpoint "which cannot be of much help in the direct analysis of procreation" (p. 41). This is odd, however, since Aristotle gives ample attention to issues of justice and friendship across generations.

According to Heyd, genethical questions are theoretically as well as practically important, since they can play a crucial role in resolving two fundamental disputes in moral philosophy: whether value is discovered or created, and whether all value is relative to persons (which he calls "volitionism") or not ("impersonalism"). It is not that genethics dictates answers to these questions; rather, genethical cases such as "wrongful life" suits elicit conflicting ethical intuitions from us, and in sorting through these we are forced to take a clear and consistent stand on the deeper issues. The ideal is eventually to reach a "wide reflective equilibrium" which can encompass problematic genethic cases.

Heyd argues for "generocentric" volitionism. Generocentrism is the view that "genesis choices can and should be guided exclusively by reference to the interests, welfare, rights, and duties of those making the choice, the 'generators'" (p. 96). A second and not obviously equivalent characterization of the view is this: potential persons have no moral standing; "the only ethical considerations relevant to decisions regarding their creation are those that refer to actual people, either present or future" (p.106). The qualification "either present or future" is added because Heyd regards human reproduction as only incompletely within human control at present: those whose generation will take place regardless of any decisions we might make he countenances as "actual."

It might be thought that generocentrism, if acted upon, would amount to a kind of egoism of the present generation. Heyd denies this, and much of his book is an effort of reconstruction, aiming to show that the sort of behavior we might take to be responsible vis-a-vis the next and future generations can be well enough justified by generocentric reasoning, without appeal to the rights or welfare of future "potential persons." Heyd admits that a generocentrist must accept certain paradoxical conclusions (for example, a woman with rubella does nothing wrong by conceiving a child rather than waiting three months until she is well again), but he thinks his view preferable under a sort of theoretical cost-benefit analysis (p. 90).
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Author:Pakaluk, Michael
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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