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.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352325299052015
Legal Theory 5/2 (1999), 117–148