Podcast: Genetic Parenthood, Assisted Reproduction, and the Values of Parental Love

On the evening of Thursday 28 December, Prof. Justin Oakley, Deputy Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, gave a fascinating and suggestive lecture on whether there is reason for the state to broaden access to IVF treatment for childless people as well as facilitating adoption.

Oakley’s main claim is that there is such a reason, based on the special value of parental love. He suggests not that adoptive relationships are, in themselves, any less valuable than genetic relationships, only that the latter are not obviously substitutable or replaceable by the former. He argues for this by analogy with friendship: we see friendship as intrinsically valuable, but the reasons why one person likes another are to some extent up to them. So a preference for a genetically related over an adopted child need not be based on the objectively greater value of the genetic relationship; but the preference, as part of an objectively valuable relationship, should – unlike certain other preferences (e.g. racist ones) – be given weight in decisions about access to IVF and the allocation of health resources.

One question raised in discussion is how much weight should be attached to such a preference. Could the resources spent on IVF be more effectively used elsewhere in the health-care system? Another more foundational question comes from sceptics about the distinctive value of the genetic relationship. If this preference is not itself grounded in objective value, it has the status of a taste, albeit one emerging from deep evolutionary and cultural roots. And it often has damaging effects on the lives of childless people who believe that they have somehow failed or missed out on something of great evaluative importance, or on adopted children who also believe that they have lost out. In the longer term perhaps the role of the state should be to enable people to see that this is not the case; and paying for IVF when adoption is available would not sit well with that role.

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