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The experience of parenthood is considered to be central to individual identity and to the life plan of most people in most societies. There are many reasons for wanting children: to give and receive love, as an expression of the couple’s unity, to give meaning or add value to one’s life, for the enjoyment or pleasure of children, to carry on the family name, to be like other friends, to give in to family pressure, to pass on one’s genes to the next generation, or even for the material benefits that children can bring, for example for help in old age or governmental assistance.1 Although some motives are more common than others and some are perceived as morally better than others, there is consensus that when it comes to having children people have the liberty to choose when, whether, and how many children to have. This right to found a family is considered to be of such importance that it is recognised as a basic human right (Article 16 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 12 of the Human Rights Act).
In general, rights are claims to protect a person’s interests. Parenthood as a negative or liberty right implies that other persons or the state should not interfere with a person’s choice to have or not have children.2 People who would limit procreative choice have the burden of showing that the reproductive actions at issue would create substantial harm if followed through.
Rights may also entail obligations. A right to parenthood simultaneously creates a duty to care for the children and a responsibility for their wellbeing. Although some people would like more emphasis on parental responsibilities than on parental rights, this shift would not help decision making regarding reproduction. The framework of rights in …
Competing interests: none declared