Collective and state interests in procreation

September 7, 2022 - September 9, 2022
Manchester Centre for Political Theory, University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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Lund University
University of Oslo

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Individuals have an interest in controlling their reproductive lives: whether they procreate matters a great deal to them and can have a significant impact on their potential to flourish. Unwanted state intervention has caused considerable, irreparable harm. At the same time, procreation for humans has never been an individual endeavour: it requires at least two participants and so while an individual may decide to not procreate, the choice to procreate is dependent (in principle) on the cooperation of at least one other individual. Then, once a procreative project completed, parental status is legally dependent on state recognition. 

With the development of reproductive medicine over the last four decades, the question of which individuals should be supported in their reproductive endeavours arises. Collective entities (such as professional organisations or states altogether) define and enforce their own conceptions of what constitutes infertility, reproduction, parenthood, and family – and, therefore, whose procreative interests are to be supported. For example, conceptions of ‘infertility’ that govern access to medical fertility treatments have long aimed to enable not so much individuals, but families themselves, to become parents. Many states are cutting back on the explicit preference for the heterosexual couple as deserving of support. This opens the question of exactly who should be regarded as eligible, and on what basis, as well as which moral demands, if any, individuals’ procreative projects impose on others. Do family members have a legitimate interest in each other’s reproductive potential? On which values (e.g. autonomy, respect for bodily integrity, fairness) should decisions be based? In whose hands should decisions lie – especially when one cannot fulfil one’s reproductive project without medical or social assistance? These are contentious questions. While individuals clearly have legitimate interests in whether they reproduce, the step from those individual interests to inter-personal or collective measures is fraught with complexity.

Families and states are not indifferent as to whether specific individuals reproduce: and some have gone a long way to actualise certain reproductive projects rather than others. However, in democratic societies today this plays out against the background of presumed individual interests (or rights). For example, in cases where a deceased person’s gametes are wanted in order to create children, requests tend to be formulated in terms of the reproductive interests of the deceased themselves. However, they also raise questions about the interests of the individuals requesting the intervention and the significance of family ties in considering whether to honour them. Intra-familial or other interpersonal interests are often silent, and so is the question of whether there even are collective or state interests in procreation.  

In this workshop, we look at collective and state interests in procreation. Questions to be discussed here include: Can there be such interests and if so, what are they? Insofar as there can be, can families be said to have any? How should collective procreative interests be managed when they conflict with individual interests, or with the interests of other collectives?

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