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Thinking ethically about genetic inheritance: liberal rights, communitarianism and the right to privacy for parents of donor insemination children


The issue of genetic inheritance, and particularly the contradictory rights of donors, recipients and donor offspring as to the disclosure of donor identities, is ethically complicated. Donors, donor offspring and parents of donor offspring may appeal to individual rights for confidentiality or disclosure within legal systems based on liberal rights discourse. This paper explores the ethical issues of non-disclosure of genetic inheritance by contrasting two principle models used to articulate the problem—liberal and communitarian ethical models. It argues that whilst the latter provides a more constructive avenue to providing an ethics for donation than the competing and contradictory positions represented in a liberal rights approach, it raises issues of ethical judgement and authority that remain problematic. This ethical discussion is supported by a field study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, exploring the perceptions and experiences of recipients of donor sperm and their partners towards donor anonymity. The field study provides the empirical basis of an argument for making ethical judgements on the grounds of the community good rather than individual rights, that nevertheless recognises that both are inherently problematic.

  • donor insemination
  • rights
  • communitarianism
  • disclosure
  • ethics

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