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Should We Replace Disabled Newborn Infants?

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image of Journal of Moral Philosophy

If a disabled newborn infant dies, her parents may be able to conceive another child without impairment. This is sometimes referred to as 'replacement'. Some philosophers have argued that replacement provides a strong reason for disabled newborns to be killed or allowed to die. In this paper I focus on the case for replacement as it relates to decisions about life support in newborn intensive care. I argue (following Jeff McMahan) that the impersonal reason to replace is weak and easily outweighed. I assess and reject several possible ways in which the impersonal reason to replace could be defended. I then address an alternative justification for replacement – as an individual-affecting benefit. The strongest justification for replacement may be the interests of parents. In the latter part of the paper I look at a related question. What role should replacement play in decisions about the funding of newborn intensive care?


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