Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children

Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children

Timothy F. Murphy
Series: Basic Bioethics
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 194
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  • Book Info
    Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children
    Book Description:

    Parents routinely turn to prenatal testing to screen for genetic or chromosomal disorders or to learn their child's sex. What if they could use similar prenatal interventions to learn (or change) their child's sexual orientation? Bioethicists have debated the moral implications of this still-hypothetical possibility for several decades. Some commentators fear that any scientific efforts to understand the origins of homosexuality could mean the end of gay and lesbian people, if parents shy away from having homosexual children. Others defend parents' rights to choose the traits of their children in general and see no reason to treat sexual orientation differently. In this book, Timothy Murphy traces the controversy over prenatal selection of sexual orientation, offering a critical review of the literature and presenting his own argument in favor of parents' reproductive liberty. Arguing against commentators who want to restrict the scientific study of sexual orientation or technologies that emerge from that study, Murphy proposes a defense of parents' right to choose. This, he argues, is the only view that helps protect children from hurtful family environments, that is consistent with the increasing powers of prenatal interventions, and that respects human futures as something other than accidents of the genetic lottery.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30582-2
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Arthur Caplan

    Glenn McGee and I developed the Basic Bioethics series and collaborated as series coeditors from 1998 to 2008. In fall 2008 and spring 2009, the series was reconstituted, with a new Editorial Board, under my sole editorship. I am pleased to present the thirty-fourth book in the series.

    The Basic Bioethics series makes innovative works in bioethics available to a broad audience and introduces seminal scholarly manuscripts, state-of-the-art reference works, and textbooks. Topics engaged include the philosophy of medicine, advancing genetics and biotechnology, end-of-life care, health and social policy, and the empirical study of biomedical life. Interdisciplinary work is encouraged....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    Not long ago, homosexuality had a fairly defined identity, at least as far as social authorities were concerned. It was pathological, criminal, immoral, and sinful, even if certain families and communities made concessions to some gay and lesbian people. Today, those unfavorable ideas of homosexuality have crumbled where they have not altogether collapsed. In the United States, medicine has repudiated the view that homosexuality is a disorder, the law has withdrawn its criminal sanctions from consensual sex between adults, secular philosophy can muster no objections to homosexuality per se, and some churches welcome openly gay and lesbian people into their...

  6. 1 The Controversy: Parents and Their Children
    (pp. 1-12)

    Philosopher Lawrence Crocker has pride of place as the author of the first ethics analysis of an intervention to control the sexual orientation of children. In a 1979 article, he defends the right to intervene to avoid having homosexual children, primarily by misrepresenting the effect of homosexuality on human happiness.¹ When Crocker wrote his article, Alan P. Bell and Martin S. Weinberg’s 1978 study of homosexuality was fresh in people’s minds. In that ambitious survey, Bell and Weinberg asked homosexual men and women in the United States questions about sexual behavior, relationships, their efforts to change their sexuality, the nature...

  7. 2 The Controversy Goes Mainstream
    (pp. 13-16)

    In 1991, neuroanatomist Simon LeVay reported a study of differences in certain brain structures of homosexual and heterosexual men.¹ The study showed that the size of a particular brain structure that is associated with sexual desire—the third interstitial anterior hypothalamus (INAH-3)—was on average smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men and that it was comparable to the size of the structure in heterosexual women. As in virtually every biological study comparing homosexuals with heterosexuals, the correlations were not exact. For example, the second-largest structure in the LeVay study belonged to a homosexual man, and some of the...

  8. 3 A Genetic Study Raises the Stakes
    (pp. 17-28)

    In 1993, geneticist Dean Hamer and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health published a high-profile study in the journalScience,identifying a genetic region on the X chromosome that homosexual brothers shared to an extent that indicated it could be involved in their sexual orientation.¹ The region was large enough to contain hundreds of genes, and although no specific gene was identified in this correlation, the findings showed a pattern of male homosexuality that suggested contributions from the men’s mother. This pattern of heritability would explain how male homosexuality could persist across generations if homosexual men ordinarily had...

  9. 4 Book Reports, Mostly
    (pp. 29-78)

    In Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland’s 1994 bookThe Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior, Hamer amplifies his views about the social implications of sexual-orientation genetics.¹ In that book, Hamer presents himself as unwillingly drawn into discussions about translating bench science to clinical applications and yet ventures opinions along exactly those lines. He first cautions against the idea that some people commit atrocities against others because of their genetics, saying that “if genes had never been discovered,” it is likely that not a single Jew would have been spared in the Holocaust.²...

  10. 5 In Defense of Trait Selection
    (pp. 79-96)

    In 1999, bioethicist Adrienne Asch opened an article on the ethics of selecting against children with disabilities by quoting from the 1997Hastings Center Reportarticle by Schüklenk and colleagues. Using that article as a starting point, she matter-of-factly notes that the quest for the origins of homosexuality is understood as homophobic in its nature, that it will lead to prenatal tests, and that these tests are dangerous for homosexuals who live in countries without legal protections.¹ Asch treats this opposition to sexual-orientation research as more or less widely shared, as intuitively correct, and morally uncontested. She then contrasts the...

  11. 6 More Debate
    (pp. 97-110)

    Seeing no good at all in the genetic study of homosexuality, communications professor Robert A. Brookey argued in 2002 that the very idea of male homosexuality that underlies most sexual-orientation research works against the interests of gay men and lesbian women.¹ He argued that studies of homosexuality signify heterosexuality as “biologically normal” and homosexuality as abnormal and that the idea of abnormality pervades scientific understandings of homosexuality and spills over into other domains of thinking about sexuality as well.

    This view—that scientific study necessarily presumes and can assert only the abnormality of homosexuality—is false. The study of homosexuality...

  12. 7 Beyond Rights
    (pp. 111-122)

    By 2008, I had written so much on the topic of prenatal interventions for sexual orientation that academic prosecutors might be tempted to charge me with criminal repetitive publication. Even so, I agreed to write a short essay for the journalMetaphilosophy, which was preparing an overview of gay and lesbian philosophy.¹ Because few philosophers write on these matters, I feel an obligation to help with this kind of project, and I also wanted to argue against the position that a prohibition against the use of prenatal interventions to prevent homosexuality in children always rebounds to the benefit of gay...

  13. 8 Not a Few Last Words
    (pp. 123-138)

    There are better ways to protect homosexual people than to monitor and interfere with parents’ choices about what kind of children they will have. Improving the social and legal status of gay men and lesbians will do more to protect them than anything else. For one thing, parents’ resistance to gay and lesbian children would dissolve if they have fewer worries about the social fate of their children, believe that those children can fare as well as anyone else in society, and believe that their welfare will not suffer because of their sexual orientation.¹ At the present time, negative forecasts...

  14. Appendix: Arguments for and against Prenatal Interventions
    (pp. 139-142)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 143-156)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-164)
  17. Index
    (pp. 165-170)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-172)