Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 421–440 | Cite as

Rethinking the moral permissibility of gamete donation



The dominant philosophical view of gamete donation as morally permissible (when practiced in the right way) rests on two premises: (1) parental obligations are triggered primarily by playing a causal role (as agent cause) in procreation, not by genetic ties, and (2) those obligations are transferable—that is, they are obligations to make adequate provision for the child’s needs, not necessarily to raise the child oneself. Thus while gamete donors are indeed agent causes of the children that their donation helps to bring into existence, most think that donors’ obligations are discharged insofar as they know that competent others intend to care for those children. In this article, I call into question this dominant view by challenging both of its premises. Challenging the first premise, I argue that genetic parenthood is what primarily triggers parental obligations. Challenging the second premise, I claim that those obligations are non-transferable—i.e., that they are obligations not simply to ensure that someone will raise one’s genetic child, but to raise that child oneself (unless one is incompetent). The implication of my argument is that gamete donation is inherently wrong insofar as it involves acquiring non-transferable obligations that one has no intention of fulfilling.


Reproductive technologies Parental obligations Gamete donation In vitro fertilization Artificial insemination Children’s rights Animalism Special obligations 



I am grateful to Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions for the post-doctoral fellowship during which I began working on this article, and to the James Madison fellows, along with Robert George and members of Princeton’s Philosophy Department, who offered helpful feedback at my presentation of an early draft. I would also like to thank Michael Gorman for his assistance in reworking the first section of the article, as well as two referees for their detailed comments on the penultimate draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyThe Catholic University of AmericaWashingtonUSA

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