Lately I've been thinking (and writing) about the principle of procreative beneficence that's been advocated by Julian Savulescu (lots of links here). Here's the basic idea, from an abstract to one of his papers--
It seems to me there is at least a tension between following the principle of Procreative Beneficence (PB) and having what you might call a "parental attitude". But the tension is subtle. Let's see if I can convince you (dear reader)!
There's a phrase in the abstract that ought to make us scratch our heads. Savulescu says "couples (or single reproducers) should select the child, of the possible children they could have, who is expected to have the best life..." (etc., my italics). The italicized phrase makes it clear Savulescu respects the fact that people prefer to have their own child. So suppose Dave and Donna are employing IVF and have 10 embryos sitting in the lab, ready for implantation. Brad and Betty are in the waiting room with them, and they're noticeably buff, beautiful, and brilliant, while Dave and Donna are noticeably not buff, not beautiful, and not brilliant. They all get to talking, and it turns out Brad and Betty have extra embryos. B&B offer them to D&D, and they've got to admit that little B would probably have a better life than little D, considering all the advantages associated with brains and beauty. Savulescu clearly isn't saying D&D have to accept their offer. According to PB, D&D only have to select the child who is expected to have the best life of the possible children they could have.
So D&D get to indulge their desire for their own, but hold on! We have lots of different thoughts and feelings about "our own". Why legitimate just the desire to have our own? Once we have children "our own" makes a lot of differences. Not only do I care more about my two children than any other children (yes, I confess that I do), but their both being "my own" makes me care about them equally. This is an unpleasant thought to have on a perfectly good Saturday morning, but if I were in a "Sophie's Choice" situation, hell no, I wouldn't apply anything like PB--I wouldn't save the child with the best chance of the best life. There's a part of the parental attitude that concerns the way you care about your kids compared to other kids; and a part that concerns how you care about your kids compared to each other. I think this is true even before they come into the world. You want your own and the sheer fact that two possible children are your own tends to eclipse small differences between them.
Now you might say I've just glued two attitudes together here--wanting your own (not other people's kids) and seeing all of your own as equally desirable. If these attitudes are just glued together, there's no reason Savulescu should respect the second, just because he respects the first. But I say: no glue! These things go together because they both emanate from a sense we have that our own biological child is a sort of second self. Our children come before all other children in much the way our selves have a certain natural priority. If two children are both sort of second selves, it's no wonder we're not going to choose between them based on who has the best chance of the best life.
Now, Savulescu's happy to allow D&D to put their own embryos ahead of all other embryos. But what if they have a "Sophie's Choice" reaction to PGD--they don't want to use it, because, as they might say, "all those future children are our own"? The principle of procreative beneficence forbids that. But with what justification? Letting D&D prioritize their own embryos, and turn down the offer of B&B, obviously cannot be justified in any sort of consequentialist fashion. The result of allowing them that preference is a worse, not a better, "crop" of kids. So let's not let Savulescu quickly make a consequentialist argument why D&D must use PGD to select among their own embryos.
Bottom line: if we're going to let the parental attitude play a role at all, we can't assume that half of it is legitimate and the other half not. I see both as having a legitimate role to play throughout the time when people are parents, and even when they are trying to become parents. They both have some weight, whereas Savulescu only gives weight to preferring our own. Now, "some weight" of course doesn't mean "all the weight." I hasten to add that I would also give weight to considerations about pregnancy outcome. The more problematic the possible outcome, the less that people should let the parental attitude prevail--either the part that prefers "our kids" to other people's kids, or the part that makes us care equally about all of our kids.
But in the ordinary situation, where embryos differ only in some relatively minor way, it seems to me it's a good prospective parent, not a flawed parent, who says "I don't care, they're all my own." Another way of making the same point: Savulescu says PGD has few costs for prospective parents who have already signed on for IVF. But not so. It always has a cost. It compromises the equal caring that's a natural part of the parental attitude. That's a cost worth paying to secure some improvements in pregnancy outcome, but not in every single case.