Parental Attention Deficit Disorder

25 J. APPLIED PHIL. 246 (2008)

17 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2008 Last revised: 4 Aug 2012

See all articles by Dov Fox

Dov Fox

University of San Diego: School of Law

Date Written: 2008


Family law affords parents broad discretion to shape their children’s talents through special instruction. Why should parents be any less free to use safe biomedical or even prenatal measures to cultivate the same traits? The growing incidence of cosmetic liposuction, eye surgery, height enhancement, and growth stunting for minors call into question the family law paradigm of near-absolute parental control over medical decisionmaking.

This Article calls that paradigm into question by appeal to the role morality of parenthood. I argue that parents bear a dual responsibility to guide children’s lives and accept them as they are. Radical intervention into children’s healthy and normal traits -- whether through genetic or environmental means -- fails to balance the dispositional extremes of control and restraint to which American parents today are susceptible.

I apply this account of parenthood to several challenging cases and reply to two principal objections in the context of selecting offspring. The first concerns the phenomenology of bearing normative obligations to people who do not yet exist. The second concerns the moral logic of criticizing selection among fetuses and embryos in assisted reproduction when we accept trait selection among children in adoption.

Keywords: gene therapy, adoption, cloning, identity, education, treatment/enhancement distinction

JEL Classification: I18, J13, O33

Suggested Citation

Fox, Dov, Parental Attention Deficit Disorder (2008). 25 J. APPLIED PHIL. 246 (2008). Available at SSRN:

Dov Fox (Contact Author)

University of San Diego: School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110
United States
(619) 260-4600 (Phone)

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