Preferring a Genetically-Related Child

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy

Millions of children worldwide could benefit from adoption. One could argue that prospective parents have a pro tanto duty to adopt rather than create children. For the sake of argument, I assume there is such a duty and focus on a pressing objection to it. Prospective parents may prefer that their children are genetically related to them. I examine eight reasons prospective parents have for preferring genetic children: for parent-child physical resemblance, for family resemblance, for psychological similarity, for the sake of love, to achieve a kind of immortality, for the genetic connection itself, to be a procreator, and to experience pregnancy. I argue that, with the possible exception of the pregnancy desire, these reasons fail to defeat a duty to adopt a child rather than create one, even assuming that we do have some leeway to favor our own interests.

  • 3

     Although, see Peter Mercurio, ‘We Found Our Son in the Subway,’ New York Times: Opinionator, February 28, 2013. Last accessed June 12, 2014.

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  • 8

    Elizabeth Bartholet, ‘International Adoption: The Human Rights Position,’ Global Policy 1 (January 2010), pp. 91–100, at p. 95.

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  • 10

     See Elizabeth Bartholet, ‘International Adoption: The Child’s Story,’ Georgia State University Law Review 24 (2008), pp. 333–79, at p. 15; Mental Disability Rights International, Hidden Suffering: Romania’s Segregations and Abuse of Infants and Children with Disabilities (2006). Available at: (hereafter, mdri Report); Human Rights Watch Death by Default: A Policy of Fatal Neglect in China’s State Orphanages (1996), available at ; The Dying Rooms, Kate Blewett and Brian Woods (Lauderdale Productions, 1995), a documentary film for television about Chinese state orphanages. abc News reported on the “concentration camp like conditions” of Romanian orphanages in early 1990. This caused widespread outcry and concern. Since then, it has been claimed that Romania has improved the situation for orphans. See C.H. Zeanah, C.A. Nelson, N.A. Fox, A.T. Smyke, P. Marshall, S.W. Parker & S. Koga, ‘Designing research to study the effects of institutionalization on brain and behavioral development: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project,’ Development and Psychopathology 15 (2003), pp. 885–907, at p. 895. Other accounts raise doubts. abc wrote a brief follow-up article. See ‘Inhumane Conditions For Romania’s Lost Generation,’ June 8, 2010 Last accessed June 13, 2014.

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  • 15

    Liam Murphy, ‘The Demands of Beneficence,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 27 (1999), pp. 251–91.

  • 22

    Kagan, The Limits of Morality, p. 241.

  • 32

    Dorothy Roberts, ‘The Genetic Tie,’ University of Chicago Law Review 62 (Winter 1995), pp. 209–73, at p. 237.

  • 39

    Discussed in Levy and Lotz, ‘Reproductive Cloning,’ p. 237; see Michael Tooley, The Moral Status of the Cloning of Humans,’ Monash Bioethics Review 18 (1999), pp. 27–49.

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  • 40

    Levy and Lotz, ‘Reproductive Cloning,’ p. 237.

  • 41

    Haslanger, ‘Family, Ancestry and Self,’ p. 108.

  • 51

    Niko Kolodny, ‘Which Relationships Justify Partiality?: The Case of Parents and Children,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 38 (2010), pp. 37–76. Kolodny’s goal is to explain partiality principles through resonance between the reasons one has toward another person in discrete encounters and the reasons one has in a history of encounters with that person, p. 50.

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  • 54

    Kolodny, pp. 55 and 61, does not believe that the Genetic Claim can provide a full account of parental (and filial) responsibilities because it fails to explain the parental obligations adoptive parents have to their children. Rather, it might be part of a full explanation for reasons of partiality between parents and children. He treats the Genetic Claim as an important limit case for testing his theory of partiality, p. 62. Though the claim is strong, investigation of the claim is warranted given the persistent intuition that genetic ties matter.

  • 62

     See Van den Dries, et al., ‘Fostering Security?’ pp. 410–421. In infant adoptions, there is no difference in “psychological adjustment and coping behavior” between first-time adoptive parents and first-time biological parents. See R. Levy-Shiff, O. Bar, & D. Har-Even, ‘Psychological adjustment of adoptive parents-to-be,’ American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 60 (1990): 258–267. There is no significant difference with regard to mother-child attachment. See L. Singer, D.M. Brodzinsky, D. Ramsay, M. Steir, & E. Waters, ‘Mother-infant attachment in adoptive families,’ Child Development 56 (1985): 1543–1551.

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  • 75

    In 2007, domestic adoptions in the u.s. of children under the age of two comprised 24 percent of all unrelated, domestic adoptions. See National Council for Adoption, ‘Adoption Factbook V,’ E.A. Rosman, C.E. Johnson, and N.M. Callahan (eds.) (2011), p. 4. Approximately 40 percent of international adoptions involve children under the age of one, p. 29. Of course, the percentage of children available for adoption who are infants may not be the same as the percentage of adopted children who are infants; we lack concrete adoptability statistics. See fn. 7. Possibly, younger-aged children are overrepresented in the pool of children who are actually adopted.

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