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Bioethics. 2014 Nov;28(9):447-55. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12044. Epub 2013 Jul 10.

When intuition is not enough. Why the Principle of Procreative Beneficence must work much harder to justify its eugenic vision.


The Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PPB) claims that we have a moral obligation, where choice is possible, to choose to create the best child we can. The existence of this moral obligation has been proposed by John Harris and Julian Savulescu and has proved controversial on many levels, not least that it is eugenics, asking us to produce the best children we can, not for the sake of that child's welfare, but in order to make a better society. These are strong claims that require robust justification that can be open to scrutiny and debate. This article argues that robust justifications are currently lacking in the work of Savulescu and Harris. The justifications provided for their conclusions about this obligation to have the best child possible rely heavily on Derek Parfit's Non-Identity Problem and the intuitive response this provokes in many of us. Unfortunately Harris and Savulescu do not embrace the entirety of the Non-Identity Problem and the puzzle that it presents. The Non-Identity Problem actually provides a refutation of PPB. In order to establish PPB as a credible and defendable principle, Harris and Savulescu need to find what has eluded Parfit and many others: a solution to the Non-Identity Problem and thus an overturning of the refutation it provides for PPB. While Harris and Savulescu do hint at possible but highly problematic solutions to the Non-Identity Problem, these are not developed or defended. As a result their controversial is left supported by little more than intuition.


Harris; Parfit; Principle of Procreative Beneficence; Savulescu; eugenics; intuition; non-identity problem

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