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Procreative beneficence and the prospective parent
  1. P Herissone-Kelly
  1. Correspondence to:
 P Herissone-Kelly
 Lecturer in Professional Ethics, Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, PR1 2HE, UK; pnherissone-kelly{at}


Julian Savulescu has given clear expression to a principle—that of “procreative beneficence”—which underlies the thought of many contemporary writers on bioethics. The principle of procreative beneficence (PPB) holds that parents or single reproducers are at least prima facie obliged to select the child, out of a range of possible children they might have, who will be likely to lead the best life. My aim in this paper is to argue that prospective parents, just by dint of their being prospective parents, are in fact not obliged to act on PPB. That is, there is something about their filling the role of prospective parents that exempts them from selecting the child with the best life. I urge that it is more realistic to view prospective parents as bound by a principle of acceptable outlook, which holds that they ought not to select children whose lives will contain an unacceptable amount of suffering.

  • PAO, principle of acceptable outlook
  • PGD, preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • PPB, principle of procreative beneficence
  • procreative beneficence
  • preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • Savulescu
  • prospective parent
  • embryo selection

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  • i It is also, incidentally, open to debate whether it is possible to make a clear and definitive distinction between disease and non-disease traits. I thank Christian Lenk for drawing this point to my attention.

  • ii Let me be clear about what I am arguing here: I am saying only that it may be inappropriate for parents to select embryo A over embryo B solely because embryo A is the better life embryo. This emphatically does not entail that it would be wrong to make this selection on the grounds that embryo B would develop into a child whose life would, say, place an intolerable or unreasonable burden on her parents.

  • iii What I have called “the external perspective” is, of course, only one perspective among many that might meaningfully be dubbed “external” (such perspectives might include those that consider what is best for society, or most cost effective, and so on). My use of the expression “external perspective” is, however, restricted to that perspective that considers whether A’s life would be better for A than B’s life would for B.

  • iv This objection was pointed out to me by an anonymous reviewer.

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