The Person-Affecting Restriction, Comparativism, and the Moral Status of Potential People

Ethical Perspectives 10 (3):185-195 (2003)
Abstract
Traditional ethical theories have paradoxical implications in regards to questions concerning procreation and our moral duties to future people. It has been suggested that the crux of the problem resides in an all too ‘impersonal’ axiology and that the problems of population axiology can be solved by adopting a ‘Person Affecting Restriction’ which in its slogan form states that an outcome can only be better than another if it is better for people. This move has been especially popular in the context of medical ethics where many of the problems of population axiology are actualized. Examples are embryo or egg selection, pre-implantation genetic testing, assisted reproduction programmes, abortion, just to mention a few. I discuss a number of different interpretations of the Restriction and in particular one interpretation which I call Comparativism. According to this view, we should draw a distinction between uniquely and non-uniquely realizable people. The former people only exist in one out of two possible outcomes, whereas the latter exist in both of the compared outcomes. The idea is that we should give more weight to the well-being of non-uniquely realizable people or take it into account in a different way as compared to the well-being of uniquely realizable people. I argue that the different versions of the Person Affecting Restriction and Comparativism either have counterintuitive implications of their own or are compatible with traditional theories such as Utilitarianism.
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