Journal Title

Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics

Publication Date



Some have recently argued that parents are morally obligated, under certain circumstances, to use pre-natal genetic intervention as a means of enhancement. Despite aiming to benefit the child, such intervention may produce serious and irreparable harm. In these cases, parents seem to have an obligation not to intervene, as such efforts make the child worse off. Julian Savulesu has argued that while harm raises doubts about the acceptability of genetic enhancement, genetic selection remains an obligation. This claim, however, rests on an indefensible privileging of personal over impersonal harm. I propose instead that we reframe the debate as stemming from fundamentally different views about parental obligation. The objection from harm rests on an objectivist conception, according to which obligation is determined by all relevant facts, including unpredictable harm. Proponents of genetic enhancement, however, operate within subjectivist assumptions about obligation, according to which moral requirements are determined by reasons that are epistemically accessible to the relevant agents. I will argue here that because subjectivism offers a more reasonable conception of parental obligation, such unforeseeable harm does not remove a parent’s obligation to enhance.

Author Supplied Keywords

Genetic enhancement, Genetic selection, Subjectivism, Harm, Procreative beneficence


Ethical problems; Genetic Enhancement--ethics

Publication Information

Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics, 2016, Volume 3, Issue 4, 113-130.

© The Author

Archived version is the final published version.



Document Type

Journal Article