Morality and parenting: An ethical framework for decisions about the treatment of imperiled newborns

This essay is written in the belief that questions relating to the treatment of impaired and imperiled newborns cannot be adequately resolved in the absence of a general moral theory of parent-child relations. The rationale for treatment decisions in these cases should be consistent with principles that ought to govern the normal work of parenting. The first section of this paper briefly examines the social contract theory elaborated by John Rawls in his renowned book A Theory of Justice and extracts from it normative principles that can guide us in our attempt to lay a rational foundation for parenthood. The second section clarifies the implications of a Rawlsian theory for the problem at hand by examining several standards that have been proposed for the treatment of impaired newborns: the strict right-to-life standard, the medical decision standard, and the quality-of-life standard. A Rawlsian standard, by contrast, is autonomy-based. That is, it would have us base our treatment decisions on consideration of the child's capacity for developing critical rationality in making decisions on his or her own. This standard, it is suggested, avoids morally objectionable features of the others.
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