Author Archives: Mohamed Houtti

Melissa Moschella: Rethinking the moral permissibility of gamete donation

In this article, Moschella’s argues against the dominant philosophical view that there is nothing morally wrong with gamete donation—a view which rests on the following two premises:

  1. Parental obligations are triggered primarily by playing a causal role (as agent cause) in procreation, not by genetic ties.
  2. Parental obligations are transferable—that is, there is no moral wrong being done by the genetic parents as long as they transfer their responsibilities to someone else who can fulfill the child’s needs.

Moschella attempts to disprove both these premises. She shows that genetics—not procreative causation—is the primary cause of parental obligations, and that these obligations are not transferrable, even to competent individuals who are not the genetic parents.

Moschella gives the following definition for genetic parent:

“A is a genetic parent of B if (i) A passes on genetic information to B, (ii) A’s physical genome is passed on to B, and (iii) A’s physical genome was reshuffled once (usually mixed with the genome of a different individual) to constitute B.” (423)

Her first premise assumes an animalist account of human identity. This means that she considers personal identity a biological property of human beings. The main relevant implication of this is that a person has a single, continuous identity from conception to death. That is, “continued existence of the same human organism is a necessary and sufficient condition for continuity of identity.” (424) This is important because it means that a genetic parent’s ties to its child are also continuous.

Next, Moschella argues in favor of her second premise—that forming personal relationships with people causes one to have special obligations—which she calls personal obligations—to those people. By Moschella’s definition, a personal relationship is “a relationship in which the parties relate as unique and irreplaceable individuals, not merely fulfilling a function which anyone with the relevant competencies could fulfill.” (426) She provides the following two examples to explain the difference between personal and non-personal relationships on page 426:

  1. My relationship with a bank teller as such, for instance, is not personal insofar as it is not based on any unique characteristics of that person, and any other equally competent teller (or a well-functioning automatic teller machine) could meet my needs equally well.
  2. My relationship with a friend is personal insofar as it is based on unique personal characteristics proper to that person, which means that there are things that person, and only that person, can ‘‘do’’ for me.

The main point of this distinction is that personal relationships create personal obligations—ones that are not transferrable—while they do also create non-personal obligations. For example, a professor does not have a personal obligation to proctor a test himself. This obligation is transferable to any other competent professor. On the other hand, a professor does have a personal obligation to meet with his advisees. He cannot merely direct them to other qualified and competent professors for advice because that obligation is based on certain unique qualities that only that professor has. Personal relationships give rise to personal obligations because they are based on unique characteristics, so “there are things that person, and only that person, can ‘‘do’’ for me” (426)

Moschella proceeds to argue that there is a personal relationship between a child and its genetic parents, and that this personal relationship comes with certain personal obligations. This relationship is personal because it is based on unique characteristics. The genetic parents are unique in that they are the biological causes of the child. Additionally, the permanence of this relationship makes it an important identity-constituting characteristic for the child because “Not to be related to my genetic parents in this regard is, simply, not to be me—indeed, it is not to exist at all.” (430)

According to Moschella, the presence of a unique personal relationship inherently gives rise to personal obligations, but what is the importance and extent of these obligations? To figure this out, we must think about how children are personally dependent on their genetic parents. In other words, what are the things that only genetic parents can do for a child? Moschella claims that knowing and loving their children as the genetic parents and letting their children know and love them is something that only genetic parents can do. While others may be able to love them, this cannot replace the unique love that comes from the genetic parents.

Why is this unique love so important? Because children do not miss being loved by someone with which they do not have a personal relationship. They do miss being loved by people who they have personal relationships with. Children always have a permanent personal relationship with their genetic parents. Thus, the love of genetic parents is irreplaceable—just as a friend’s love would be irreplaceable—but the personal relationship that makes a genetic parent’s love irreplaceable is non-contingent. In order to be able to provide their children with love and receive love in return, the child and parent must know each other well. Thus, spending a lot of time with the child is essential for fulfilling this obligation.

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, in cases where the parents are not competent enough to raise the child, they may transfer that obligation. However, the obligation of love does not transfer. Instead, the parents must be able to tell the child that they gave him up because of their love for him. Since the obligation is to the child, the circumstances must be such that the child accepts and agrees with this explanation at all points later in his or her life.

This exception, however, never applies to gamete donations because genetic parents are creating the child with the intention of giving it up to someone else. In other words, the child is not being created and then given up for its own well-being out of love. Rather, it is created with the specific intention of being given up for ulterior gain—whether it be monetary gain or helping an infertile couple have a child. Additionally, the creation of a child cannot be done for the benefit of that child because there is no child to benefit before its creation. Creation of a child can only be intended as a benefit for someone else—treatment which is incompatible with love. Thus, gamete donation is inherently immoral because it involves genetic parents creating a child without the intention of fulfilling their personal obligation of loving it and allowing it to love them.