Ethics – The right to a child

So this is a more heavy post but I hope it’s useful and for those that don’t take this subject, maybe it will enlighten you as to what they teach sixteen-year-olds nowadays.

The right to a child

What is meant by rights?

Originally rights were seen to come from God – being made by God and being sacred gave us rights. Some still hold this view were others argue that our rights come from nature – simply because we are human and therefore have higher intrinsic value than other creatures, and others argue that rights come from the duties or responsibilities that we have towards others.

A rights based ethic can become individual as new-born babies have rights, but they do not own any duties towards others.

Rights then are simply a result of being human and have an impact on every part of society, including whether a woman has the right to a child. This issue of rights to a child raises many questions:

  • Do all men and women have rightward child?
  • Do women of any age have the right to a child?
  • Is a child gift?
  • Are all parents responsible enough to have a child?
  • Who should pay for IVF?
  • Is it right to use an unknown donor?
  • Is having a child by artificial means playing God?

Fertility treatment and the ethical issues raised by it

There are many different fertility treatments such as:

  • IVF – known as creating ‘test-tube babies’.
  • Surrogacy – where a woman is used as a substitute to give birth and then relinquish the baby to someone else.
  • Artificial insemination – be it from the husband or a sperm donor.

Different health authorities have different guidelines about who is eligible, and at what age a couple can have fertility treatment – this leads to a postcode lottery. To fund it privately is very expensive.

In IVF, embryos are screened before implantation and only the strongest are implanted, in some cases imperfect embryos can be discarded and even embryos of a certain sex is chosen.

The introduction of fertility treatment has meant that couples are less likely to think of adoption and fostering as a first option if they are unable to have children naturally.

Issues surrounding fertility treatment

Fertility treatment raises many ethical issues:

  • Who has the right fertility treatment? Can women of any age be treated? Do homosexual couples and single women have the right to fertility treatment?
  • What are the ethical issues resulting from the procedure? What is the status of spare embryos and how they kept or disposed of? When an embryo becomes person? What is the moral status of the donor? What about the cost of the NHS? What about the success rate of IVF? Is it morally right for a third party to be involved, whether as a donor or a surrogate? Is it morally right pay surrogate? Is it morally right or obtain sperm through masturbation?

Application of ethical theories to the right of abortion

Christian ethics

Christian ethics was consider some of the following issues:

  • Sanctity of Life – this is especially important if some of the embryos are used for foetal research or are simply disposed of unwanted.
  • The child is a gift from God – there are concerns about older women, and the development of saviour siblings. Some Christians do argue that women should have the same rights as men as far as becoming a parent is concerned and age should not be a barrier. Other Christians say they should just accept that infertility as God does not intend them to have children.
  • Possible adultery – the charge should be the result of the love the couple have for each other and introducing a third party is almost like adultery.
  • The sanctity of marriage – a child should be raised in the context of heterosexual, permanent relationship between parents. This approach prohibits homosexual couples or single women from using sperm donors or surrogates to become parents. Some Christians do say that they should be given the same rights to parents as heterosexual couples.

Fletcher’s Situational Ethics would be in favour of fertility treatment in some cases – technologies and creative skills can be used for compassionate reasons and what matters is the outcome: the birth of the child.

Natural law

  • Any means other than natural conception would be rejected including the idea that masturbation to obtain sperm is wrong.
  • Preservation of life and the belief that all life has equal status – the destruction of embryos goes against these primary precepts.
  • Absolute theory – does not take into consideration the consequences of actions.

It could be argued that the doctrine of double effect is relevant as the creation of spare embryos could be seen as unintended consequence of IVF.


  • Utilitarianism utilitarian’s would weigh up the pleasure and pain involved.
  • All actions are judged by consequences.
  • The happiness of the greatest number would consider the cost of health service and whether money could be better spent on life-saving operations.
  • Preference utilitarianism would consider that no one’s happiness is more important than others, so the happiness of the couple is considered.
  • Utilitarianism does not protect the status of the embryo, nor does it see it as sacred in any way.

Kantian ethics

  • The Categorical Imperative demands that people are treated as ends not means. This would apply to the embryo if it is considered to be a person and others involved, such as sperm/egg donors and surrogates.
  • All humans should have the same moral treatment.
  • There is the danger of treating the creation of human life as just another consumer good.
  • Universalisation would consider the question of whether it is acceptable to offer IVF to every infertile couple.

So, there you have it. Please have a nice day and remember that this is just the course and not meant to say at any point what is right or wrong. Please comment any debate points or ideas I missed, as this is a good subject to debate 🙂

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