Conception and the concept of harm

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 8 (2):137-158 (1983)
In recent years, science and the courts have created new options whereby prospective parents can avoid the birth of a diseased or defective child. We can ascertain the likelihood that certain genetic diseases will be transmitted; We can detect a number of fetal abnormalities in utero ; we have legal permission to abort for any reason, including fetal abnormality. With these new options come new questions concerning our moral obligations toward our prospective offspring. An important conceptual question concerns whether such congenital diseases and defects constitute harms to the children who bear them. In this essay I shall examine the prevailing analysis of harm, the "Otherwise-Condition" approach, which denies that we can predicate harm of such abnormalities. I will show first that this analysis is inadequate even to account for certain very ordinary, clear cases of harm. It thus is suspect regardless of its stance on congenital anomalies. Second, it sets up an ill-considered connection between harm and causation – a connection which renders its harm ascriptions slippery, arbitrary. Finally, this analysis cannot be squared with certain of our deeply entrenched moral intuitions. By thus rebutting this most influential definition of harm, I will have opened the door to the possibility of ascribing harm for congenital disease and defect. Keywords: Harm, Otherwise-condition, Congenital anomaly * I would like to thank A. D. Woozley, Derek Parfit, Daniel Devereux, and the editors and reviewers of the JMP for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. CiteULike Connotea What's this?
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DOI 10.1093/jmp/8.2.137
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