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In defence of Procreative Beneficence
  1. Julian Savulescu
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J Savulescu
 Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Littlegate House, St Ebbes, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK; julian.savulescu{at}

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Why potential parents should select the best child of possible children, and the necessity of a dialogue about the context of a reproductive decision.

The principle of Procreative Beneficence is the principle of selecting the best child of the possible children one could have. This principle is elaborated on and defended against a range of objections. In particular, focus is laid on four objections that Michael Parker raises: that it is underdetermining, that it is insensitive to the complex nature of the good, that it is self-defeating and that it is overly individualistic. Procreative Beneficence is a useful principle in reproductive decision-making. It is necessary to be more active in making selection decisions about what kind of child to have.

Parker1 raises four objections to the principle of Procreative Beneficence (see page 279). I will address these in turn.

(1) Procreative Beneficence is underdetermining

Parker claims that Procreative Beneficence is underdetermining. By “underdetermining”, he means that the principle will not give clear and determinate answers as to which lives are better or best. Parker argues that “ranking possible lives as “better” or “worse” is “highly problematic”.

Ranking lives is a very complex matter. Let us distinguish between:

  • the value of a whole life and

  • the value of an individual feature of a life (eg, being short, having red hair, having a gene for baldness, and so on).

We should also distinguish between valuation ex ante (prediction of the value of a whole life or feature) and ex post (retrospective evaluation of a whole life or feature). In Procreative Beneficence, I likened genetic testing to playing the wheel of fortune.2 Just because we have a weak chance of winning, does not mean we should not play the game. The only reason not to play a game that …

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  • Competing interests: None.

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