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Nigel Warburton on... the right to have babies

Updated Wednesday 20th February 2008

Should the "Yuk factor" influence ethical decisions?

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Once upon a time, there was only one way to conceive a baby. Now, there are various possibilities. Turkey basters, sperm donors, in vitro fertilization – these are now all familiar practices. When I interviewed Mary Warnock, who has thought deeply about the ethical issues that arise in this area, I was struck not only by the clarity of her thinking on this complex matter, but also by the weight she gave to some people's desire to have a biologically related child. Also impressive was her sense of the State's requirement of fairness, in dispensing the means to increasing fertility.

The Yuk factor is mentioned at the end of the interview. This is a topic that crops up in several Ethics Bites. It is the unthinking reaction to processes that some people believe to be both 'unnatural' and disgusting - we all feel it about some things. Philosophers, however, are unlikely to be satisfied with the 'yuk' response as a final word. The question is, is this feeling of repulsion a superficial instinct, or is it really warranted?

Further reading

  • Making Babies: Is There A Right to Have Children? by Mary Warnock, published by Oxford University Press
  • An Intelligent Person's Guide to Ethics by Mary Warnock, published by Duckworth





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