Journal of Medical Ethics 44 (7):448-452 (2018)

The case of Charlie Gard, an infant with a genetic illness whose parents sought experimental treatment in the USA, brought important debates about the moral status of parents and children to the public eye. After setting out the facts of the case, this article considers some of these debates through the lens of parental rights. Parental rights are most commonly based on the promotion of a child’s welfare; however, in Charlie’s case, promotion of Charlie’s welfare cannot explain every fact of the case. Indeed, some seem most logically to extend from intrinsic parental rights, that is, parental rights that exist independent of welfare promotion. I observe that a strong claim for intrinsic parental rights can be built on arguments for genetic propriety and children’s limited personhood. Critique of these arguments suggests the scope of parental rights remains limited: property rights entail proper use; non-personhood includes only a small cohort of very young or seriously intellectually disabled children and the uniqueness of parental genetic connection is limited. Moreover, there are cogent arguments about parents’ competence to make judgements, and public interest arguments against allowing access to experimental treatment. Nevertheless, while arguments based on propriety may raise concerns about the attitude involved in envisioning children as property, I conclude that these arguments do appear to offer a prima facie case for a parental right to seek experimental treatment in certain limited circumstances.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1136/medethics-2017-104718
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,199
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

An Essay on Rights.Hillel Steiner - 1994 - Oxford, Uk ;Blackwell.
Taking Rights Seriously.Ronald Dworkin - 1979 - Ethics 90 (1):121-130.
Justice, Gender and the Family.Susan Moller Okin - 1989 - Hypatia 8 (1):209-214.
Justice, Gender, and the Family.Martha L. Fineman - 1991 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (1):77-97.

View all 32 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Introduction to the Special Issue.Martha Montello - 2018 - Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 60 (3):293-294.
How Do We Acquire Parental Rights?Joseph Millum - 2010 - Social Theory and Practice 36 (1):112-132.
Charlie Gard: In Defence of the Law.Eliana Close, Lindy Willmott & Benjamin P. White - 2018 - Journal of Medical Ethics 44 (7):476-480.
Parental Rights and Due Process.Donald C. Hubin - 1999 - The Journal of Law and Family Studies 1 (2):123-150.
Do Parental Licensing Schemes Violate the Rights of Biological Parents?Christian Barry & R. J. Leland - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94 (3):755-761.
Parental Consent and the Use of Dead Children's Bodies.T. M. Wilkinson - 2001 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 11 (4):337-358.


Added to PP index

Total views
30 ( #383,230 of 2,518,004 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #167,427 of 2,518,004 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes