Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibility, and the Significance of Harm

Paper by Seana Shiffrin, published on June 1, 1999 in Legal Theory

A wrongful life suit is an unusual civil suit brought by a child (typically a congenitally disabled child)1 who seeks damages for burdens he suffers that result from his creation. Typically, the child charges that he has been born into an unwanted or miserable life.2 These suits offer the prospect of financial relief for some disabled or neglected children and have some theoretical advantages over alternative causes of action.3 But they have had only mixed, mostly negative, success.4 They have, however, spurred considerable philosophical interest.5 This attention, though, has been primarily focused on issues about the coherence of complaining about one’s existence or its essential conditions. These suits also raise important, but less well-probed, philosophical questions about the morality of procreation and, more generally, about the moral significance of imposed, but not consented to, conditions that deliver both significant harms and benefits.

A Pareto Principle for Possible People

Paper by Christoph Fehige, published on January 1, 1998 in Preferences

How good or bad is a world? Let us assume, as so often, that this is a matter solely of the preferences it contains and of their frustration and satisfaction. One question we shall then have to face is how the existence of a preference and its satisfaction compares to the non-existence of this preference: is it better, or worse, or just as good, or sometimes one and sometimes the other? Section 1 will argue at length that, ceteris paribus, the two options - satisfied preference and no preference - are equally good, a doctrine we can call antifrustrationism. This settled, sections 2 to 7 will begin to translate antifrustrationism into moral principles, and to investigate the consequences.

The production of children as a problem of utilitarian ethics

Paper by Hermann Vetter, published on March 1, 1969 in Inquiry

It is shown that the basic postulate of utilitarianism does not work when we must decide whether a person should be brought into existence. Utilitarianism must be supplemented by further axioms. Those proposed lead to the consequence that as far as the potential child's utility is concerned, it is morally preferable not to produce children at all. This consequence is accepted. It is still recommended when parents’ utility is taken into account.