Future Children as Property

adult_supervisionFrom: Social Science Research Network – by Carter Dillard, Loyola University New Orleans

Abstract:

Between Skinner v. Oklahoma and the advent of modern substantive due process, procreation, at least in the eyes of many courts and commentators, became entrenched as a fundamental, if not absolute, right. And yet ironically, the establishment of this right, often taken as symbolic of personal liberty, has diminished autonomy for those persons inevitably caught on the other end of it – our future children. Expanding procreative autonomy has diminished public norms that might otherwise ensure that future children are born into circumstances that also expand their autonomy. Instead, the broad, modern, privacy-based version of the right to procreate leaves the matter exclusively and privately to the whims of prospective parents, allowing them to create any number of children in any manner of circumstances. This tends to institutionalize the classification of a group of persons, albeit future persons, who exist morally and legally though not yet physically, as property. It does so because it gives prospective parents exclusive and absolute power over members of the class; power to freely access them, use them, and determine their future relations, and to do so in exclusion of others’ power, including the constructive power of the members themselves. This power over future children, which the privacy-based right to procreate vests in prospective parents, is the unmistakable hallmark of one class of persons treating another as property.

This article maintains that the most common notion of the right to procreate, the one seemingly derived from constitutional precedent and today taken as largely beyond question, tends to treat future children largely as a class of property, assigned as such to prospective parents. This article also traces the historical development of the right as part of the larger tradition of treating existing children as the property of those who create them. Throughout, this article suggests that the right to procreate so conceived is in tension with an embedded constitutional principle that prohibits one class of persons from treating another as property. This tension, which may be called the “property objection,” demands that we change the way we think about the right to procreate.

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