Getting what you desire: the normative significance of genetic relatedness in parent–child relationships

  • Seppe SegersEmail author
  • Guido Pennings
  • Heidi Mertes
Scientific Contribution


People who are involuntarily childless need to use assisted reproductive technologies if they want to have a genetically related child. Yet, from an ethical point of view it is unclear to what extent assistance to satisfy this specific desire should be warranted. We first show that the subjectively felt harm due to the inability to satisfy this reproductive desire does not in itself entail the normative conclusion that it has to be met. In response, we evaluate the alternative view according to which the satisfaction of this desire is regarded as a way to meet one’s presumed intermediate need for parenthood. This view presupposes that parenthood is one of those general categories of experiences and activities that contribute an irreplaceable value to people’s lives, but the central difficulty is to find those characteristics that mark out parenthood as an irreplaceable constituent of a valuable life. We go on to argue, however, that even if one assumes that parenthood is such an irreplaceable constituent that makes life more valuable, this does not necessarily entail a moral duty to satisfy the desire for genetic parenthood. We conclude that there is a pro tanto obligation to help people conceive a genetically related child (if this is what they prefer), but that this can be outweighed by other moral considerations, such as safety and justice concerns.


Genetic parenthood Assisted reproduction Reproduction ethics Stem cell-derived gametes Need Desire 



This study was funded by the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT) (Project Number: 150042).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioethics Institute Ghent, Department of Philosophy and Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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