J Med Ethics 35:373-376 doi:10.1136/jme.2008.028126
  • Law, ethics and medicine
    • Paper

Getting beyond the welfare of the child in assisted reproduction

  1. B Solberg
  1. B Solberg, Department of Social Work and Health Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway (on sabbatical leave at the University of Melbourne until June 2009: Centre for Health and Society, Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia); berge.solberg{at}
  • Received 4 November 2008
  • Revised 30 December 2008
  • Accepted 17 March 2009


The welfare of the child is the prevailing principle and concern regarding access to assisted reproduction in Western countries today, and there is a wish to avoid harm to future children. New research fields have developed in order to provide scientific evidence on the welfare of children living with different “types” of parents. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) seems to be heading in a responsible direction where the care and concern for future children is vital. However, the claim of this article is that the principle of the welfare of the child confuses the ethical framing of ART. Several philosophers in the past have argued that potential people must be regarded as outside the moral domain, and therefore cannot be harmed or benefitted. This message has not reached the policymakers, probably because the welfare of the child principle seems to fit so elegantly with common sense. In this article a different ethical framing of ART is proposed. The author argues that “futile care” and not “the welfare of the child” should be the guiding principle for eventually rejecting access to ART. The desired goal of ART treatment should be understood to be the production of functional families. Assisted reproduction is primarily about us, actual people in an actual society, and how potential children may affect us.


  • Competing interests: None.

  • Provenance and Peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • BS is a number of the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.