Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

What's wrong with Zsa Zsa becoming a mother at 94?

Perhaps this is a misguided use of reproductive technology.

It appears that the Hungarian-born actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor, is going to become a mother once again using egg donation, artificial insemination, and a surrogate mother. Given concerns about her age, her 67 year old husband, says "I'm a retired guy, I can take care of it."

What might be wrong with this? First, we must remember that morality is not merely about actions or the consequences of our actions. It is also about our character, which includes our beliefs, desires, habits, and motives. Apparently one reason for doing this is the desire to have someone to carry on the famous Gabor name. Another reason given by Gabor's current husband is that if she passes away he will have nothing to live for, and so having a child to care for would provide him with a reason to live. In my view, neither of these are good enough reasons for creating a child.

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While many people have children for a variety of reasons, and some of those reasons are certainly worse than the two offered here, there is still something overly self-centered about creating a human being for these purposes.

First, I simply fail to see the significance of "passing on the family name". Now perhaps this is because I am not a Gabor, or Kennedy, or Hilton. However, even if there is some significance to this, it does not seem to justify the creation of a human being. We ought to have child-centered reasons for that, in addition to whatever other motives are in play. Perhaps they have such reasons, and are simply not discussing them.

Second, and more importantly, it is not a good idea to have a child merely for the sake of giving a parent a reason to live. One problem is that this is a clearly self-centered reason for procreation. Also, in such cases it is easy to see how much pressure would be put on the child to conform to the wishes of the parent, so that the parent can receive the meaning and satisfaction in life he wishes to derive from this relationship with the child. This might cause several problems for the child, and for the parent-child relationship.

Third, I think there is something morally problematic about creating a child when there is a very good chance that neither parent will be around to care for that child until it reaches adulthood. Unfortunately, given her age and state of health, it is unlikely that Gabor will do so. And given his age, it is unlikely that her current husband will be able to do so either.

In conclusion, I am not arguing that there should be some legal prohibition against this sort of thing. And perhaps there are counterbalancing reasons on the other side which could make this sort of thing morally permissible. What I am trying to point out is that this decision is morally problematic, for several reasons.

Mike Austin on Twitter, and his personal blog.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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