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The Child’s Right to an Open Future: Philosophical Foundations and Bioethical Applications

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Part of the The International Library of Bioethics book series (ILB,volume 89)

Abstract

The child’s right to an open future (ROF) is a normative ideal that is frequently invoked in pediatric bioethics. At its core, ROF holds that when childhood decisions threaten the autonomy of the future adult, fiduciaries should defer and, hence, preserve the choice until children reach maturity and can choose for themselves. In this chapter, I explore several conceptual and normative issues raised by ROF. I begin by briefly summarizing how ROF came to dominate certain debates within pediatric ethics before mapping out the conceptual space that ROF occupies in relation to other rights attributed to children. I then reconstruct the prima facie case for ROF that has made this ideal attractive within pediatric ethics before analyzing some of its primary conceptual and normative challenges. Finally, I defend an alternative framework in which children’s interest in preserving a relatively open future is regarded not as a strict right but instead as one (important) interest among many to weigh and balance in pediatric decision-making. This alternative interest-based framework allows for the open future to be treated within a broader pediatric ethical framework like the best interest standard rather than as an independently robust ethical constraint. I conclude by comparatively evaluating ROF with this interest-based framework when applied to three different pediatric bioethics controversies: (1) the sterilization of minors, (2) elective pediatric surgeries, and (3) predictive genetic testing.

Keywords

  • Autonomy
  • Children’s interests
  • Elective pediatric surgeries
  • Predictive genetic testing
  • Right to an open future
  • Sterilization of minors

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-86182-7_3
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Further Reading

  • Davis, D.S. 1997. Genetic dilemmas and the child’s right to an open future. Hastings Center Report 27: 7–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Feinberg, J. 1980. The child’s right to an open future. In Whose child? Children’s rights, parental authority, and state power, ed. W. Aiken and H. LaFollette, 124–153. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garrett, J.R., J.D. Lantos, L. Biesecker, et al. 2019. Rethinking the “open future” argument against predictive genetic testing of children. Genetics in Medicine 21: 2190–2198.

    Google Scholar 

  • Millum, J. 2014. The foundation of the child’s right to an open future. Journal of Social Philosophy 45: 522–538.

    Google Scholar 

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Correspondence to J. R. Garrett .

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Garrett, J.R. (2022). The Child’s Right to an Open Future: Philosophical Foundations and Bioethical Applications. In: Nortjé, N., Bester, J.C. (eds) Pediatric Ethics: Theory and Practice . The International Library of Bioethics, vol 89. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-86182-7_3

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