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Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children

Timothy F. Murphy

Publication Year: 2012

A critical review of the debate over the still-hypothetical possibility of prenatal intervention by parents to select the sexual orientation of their children.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Series Foreword

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pp. vii

Glenn McGee and I developed the Basic Bioethics series and collaborated as series coeditors from 1998 to 2008. In fall 2008 and spring 2009, the series was reconstituted, with a new Editorial Board, under my sole editorship. I am pleased to present the thirty-fourth book in the series...

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pp. ix

Some of the help that I received for this book came from conversations that were not directly about the book or even its subject. In those cases, the help came in the form of ideas that contrasted with my own, which helped me imagine the book’s audience, form, and arguments. For their...

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pp. xi-xxii

Not long ago, homosexuality had a fairly defined identity, at least as far as social authorities were concerned. It was pathological, criminal, immoral, and sinful, even if certain families and communities made concessions to some gay and lesbian people. Today, those unfavorable ideas of homosexuality...

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1. The Controversy: Parents and Their Children

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pp. 1-12

Philosopher Lawrence Crocker has pride of place as the author of the first ethics analysis of an intervention to control the sexual orientation of children. In a 1979 article, he defends the right to intervene to avoid having homosexual children, primarily by misrepresenting the effect of...

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2. The Controversy Goes Mainstream

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pp. 13-15

In 1991, neuroanatomist Simon LeVay reported a study of differences in certain brain structures of homosexual and heterosexual men. The study showed that the size of a particular brain structure that is associated with sexual desire—the third interstitial anterior hypothalamus...

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3. A Genetic Study Raises the Stakes

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pp. 17-27

In 1993, geneticist Dean Hamer and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health published a high-profile study in the journal Science, identifying a genetic region on the X chromosome that homosexual brothers shared to an extent that indicated it could be involved in their sexual...

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4. Book Reports, Mostly

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pp. 29-78

In Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland’s 1994 book The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior, Hamer amplifies his views about the social implications of sexual-orientation genetics. In that book, Hamer presents himself as unwillingly drawn into...

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5. In Defense of Trait Selection

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pp. 79-96

In 1999, bioethicist Adrienne Asch opened an article on the ethics of selecting against children with disabilities by quoting from the 1997 Hastings Center Report article by Schüklenk and colleagues. Using that article as a starting point, she matter-of-factly notes that the quest for the origins...

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6. More Debate

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pp. 97-110

Seeing no good at all in the genetic study of homosexuality, communications professor Robert A. Brookey argued in 2002 that the very idea of male homosexuality that underlies most sexual-orientation research works against the interests of gay men and lesbian women. He argued...

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7. Beyond Rights

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pp. 111-121

By 2008, I had written so much on the topic of prenatal interventions for sexual orientation that academic prosecutors might be tempted to charge me with criminal repetitive publication. Even so, I agreed to write a short essay for the journal Metaphilosophy, which was preparing an overview...

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8. Not a Few Last Words

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pp. 123-138

There are better ways to protect homosexual people than to monitor and interfere with parents’ choices about what kind of children they will have. Improving the social and legal status of gay men and lesbians will do more to protect them than anything else. For one thing, parents’ resistance to...

Appendix: Arguments for and against Prenatal Interventions

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pp. 139-142


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pp. 143-156


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pp. 157-164


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pp. 165-169

Basic Bioethics Series List

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pp. 171-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780262305822
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262018050

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homosexuality -- Genetic aspects.
  • Sexual orientation -- Research -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Prenatal influences.
  • Prenatal diagnosis.
  • Human genetics -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Bioethics.
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