Journal Club: The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life

TBioethicshis month the Philosopher’s Eye is inviting discussion on the free article ‘The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life’ written by Julian Savulescu and Guy Kahane, and the most cited article of 2010 published in the journal Bioethics.

What are your thoughts on the controversial topic discussed in this article? We invite your comments below…

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Abstract:
According to what we call the Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PB), couples who decide to have a child have a significant moral reason to select the child who, given his or her genetic endowment, can be expected to enjoy the most well-being. In the first part of this paper, we introduce PB, explain its content, grounds, and implications, and defend it against various objections. In the second part, we argue that PB is superior to competing principles of procreative selection such as that of procreative autonomy. In the third part of the paper, we consider the relation between PB and disability. We develop a revisionary account of disability, in which disability is a species of instrumental badness that is context- and person-relative. Although PB instructs us to aim to reduce disability in future children whenever possible, it does not privilege the normal. What matters is not whether future children meet certain biological or statistical norms, but what level of well-being they can be expected to have.

Bioethics

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Should parents – and not just their babies – be crying?

The costs and benefits of being a parent have been in the news a lot in the last few years.  Some studies apparently indicate that parenting is linked to unhappiness.  According to one study, “parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003) and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.”

So why should anyone have children?  This is a reasonable thing to wonder about. We wonder about good reasons for doing and creating things all the time. Should we build that stadium? Should I go to school or get a new job? Should I make the pizza or the steamed kale? Given that child-rearing is seemingly a monumental task, it is reasonable to wonder if and why one has reason to do it.   Continue reading “Should parents – and not just their babies – be crying?”

The Pursuit of Happiness

David Cameron has recently announced and, due to widespread scepticism, defended the coalition government’s decision to introduce a national £2m government funded ‘happiness-index’, to gauge the happiness of the British people.  The Office for National Statistics is to formulate questions for a household survey, to be carried out up to four times a year.  Cameron has previously hinted at such an ambitious project.  In 2005, soon after becoming Conservative leader he said: “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – General Well-Being”.

One could dismiss the government’s happiness-index proposals as woolly, blue sky thinking, politically calculated to coincide with the continuing instability of the Euro Zone, the winter student riots or the new year VAT rise.  Alternatively, one may insist quite the reverse – that these factors render the proposals an even more Continue reading “The Pursuit of Happiness”

Well-being and the end of life

Atul Gawande’s article on end-of-life care in this week’s New Yorker is heart-breaking and thought-provoking.  At bottom, it’s an article about well-being, and how easy it is to lose track of what matters to us.  Here’s the basic idea:

People have concerns besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.

Gawande gives us a series of real-life illustrations.  Here’s one:

Susan Block and her father had the conversation that we all need to have when the chemotherapy stops working, when we start needing oxygen at home, when we face high-risk surgery, when the liver failure keeps progressing, when we become unable to dress ourselves. I’ve heard Swedish doctors call it a “breakpoint discussion,” a systematic series of conversations to sort out when they need to switch from fighting for time to fighting for the other things that people value—being with family or traveling or enjoying chocolate ice cream.

I wonder how much this is just a period of adjustment that will be solved by time.  Even 20 years ago, “fighting to the end” meant something different, because the weapons we were fighting with were different.  It’s only been the current elderly generation that has had to often, almost as a matter of routine, face the possibility of forgoing all these other values (family, touch, awareness, etc) in favor of more time with a machine-assisted pulse.  I don’t think many people who watch one of these bad deaths come away wanting the same thing for themselves.  And so I think, by the time the next generation starts facing the end of life, our values will be more sanely balanced, and we’ll stop using length of life as an easily measured proxy for well-being.  I hope!

I suppose the pessimistic view is that we’ve shown ourselves nearly incapable of letting go of easily quantified proxies for well-being.  There was a time when wealth was a decent proxy for well-being.  (The time when most people were below whatever threshold of income is necessary for a reasonable degree of self-determination.)  But now that nearly everyone in the developed world is well above that threshold, money is no longer a good proxy for well-being.  And yet many people continue to pursue money at clear cost to their own well-being.  Maybe we’ll be similarly foolish when it comes to death, continuing to pursue the maximally long life even at clear cost to our own well-being.

Related articles:

Well-Being: Psychological Research for Philosophers
By Valerie Tiberius, University of Minnesota (Vol. 1, September 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Welfarism
By Simon Keller , University of Melbourne (Vol. 3, December 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Tragic atheism, why?

Over the last month I’ve seen a bunch of posts debating religious belief similar to this from Damon Linker:

Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss… The studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

I’m totally in the dark about why Linker thinks a loss of faith should be accompanied by a permanent sense of loss.

When a kid learns there’s no Santa Claus, there usually is a sense of loss:  it’s sad to find out that there’s no benevolent toy-maker.

But this sense of loss is short-lived. It doesn’t take long to realize that Christmas is pretty awesome, even without Santa. You get time off work, you give and get presents, you spend time with family and splurge on food.  Before long, you realize that Santa has nothing to do with what’s great about Christmas– and he never did.

A Santa-believing analog of Linker would say: “Those who claim to embrace happily a Santa-less Christmas have failed to grapple with the true horror of Santa-less-ness. I can respect those who don’t believe in Santa. I just can’t respect those who aren’t made permanently gloomy by their non-belief.”  This is a silly thing to say!  All the good stuff about Christmas is still there.

Related articles:

Hume on Miracles
By James E. Taylor, Westmont College (June 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Golf, Happiness, and Morality

Stuart Cink golf_2won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry last Sunday, his first major championship. However, the new highpoint in the 36 year-old Cink’s professional golf career came at the expense of Tom Watson’s happiness and the happiness of (nearly all) golf fans world-wide who desperately wanted to see Watson do the impossible: win golf’s most storied major at the not-so-tender age of 59, eleven years older than any previous major winner. Continue reading “Golf, Happiness, and Morality”