BENEFICENCE & BABIES | thesis extract

About: The following is an extract from my final year Applied Ethics thesis "Beneficence & Babies: Our Moral Obligations to the Globally Unparented". This extract introduces a hypothetical online baby shop, "Ebaby", and compares this to real reproductive decisions that are available to us, in an attempt to illustrate how the preference for an existing child to be parented might outweigh a parents preference to be genetically related to their child.


Imagine being able to log on to a cyber-shop, “Ebaby”, where prospective parents are able to order children online. Ebaby gives prospective parents the choice to have delivered to their doorstep either (a) a made-to-order newborn that is genetically related to them, or (b) an already existing new born that is not genetically related to either of them, but is in dire need of loving parents. Morally speaking, it seems like parents ought to choose the latter, based on the fact that they could greatly benefit the existing child, without sacrificing anything of comparable moral worth. In this scenario, any inclination to choose baby (a) over baby (b) would likely be grounded in the idea that genetic parenthood is preferable to adoptive parenthood, and that this interest could even outweigh the interests of an existing child to belong to parents...

...Though it might seem as though Ebaby is too far-fetched to say anything about the real world, I would ask you to consider the case of international surrogacy, a rapidly growing industry in India and elsewhere in Asia, where prospective parents from the developed world, usually unable to have children of their own, pay a cheaper price for a surrogate mother to gestate a child that is genetically related to at least one them. I propose that the choice between this mode of child ‘procurement’ (for lack of a better word), and international adoption, provide a real-life decision not dissimilar from Ebaby. In both international adoption and international surrogacy, processing usually takes several years, and is costly, both in terms of the fees paid to agencies and the money spent on visiting abroad. Both processes are emotionally burdensome, and parents in both situations never know whether they will actually receive the child until the final hours. Furthermore, international adoption and surrogacy both come with concerns of exploitation or oppression. 

The important difference is, that where parents are choosing between these two modes of child procurement they are choosing between a pre-existing child that is unrelated to them, or a child that is yet to exist but is genetically related to them. Considering this real life comparison, it gives us a morally identical scenario to what is occurring in the Ebaby shop, where parents who choose a genetically related child are sacrificing the needs of a pre-existing child who does not have parents. To make this clearer, while my Ebaby hypothetical is analogous to Singer’s pond case, the decision between adoption and surrogacy made here is analogous to the decision between keeping one’s excess money or giving it to charity. From here we can see that international surrogacy gives a point of departure from which the principle of beneficence can say something about an obligation to adopt. In this case, parents who choose international surrogacy over international adoption need to provide reasons as to how their interest in having a genetically related child outweighs, morally speaking, an existing child’s interest in having parents.