ABSTRACT: Habermas has defended a moral right not to be genetically modified or otherwise engineered as an embryo, because such biotechnological interventions in reproduction constrain the future of the possible child in an irreversible way. Contra Habermas, I explore to what extent a child’s right to be genetically modified is justifiable in both moral and political terms. I conclude that a political approach—which avoids divisive, doctrinaire, and deterministic conceptions of the human—is best suited for the articulation of the rights of the child in an age of genetic engineering. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an ethical resource for further political articulation of the rights of the child after human germline genetic modification. The novel opens an imaginative frame for focusing upon the rights of the child after birth, by removing pregnancy from the Creature’s reproductive circumstances, and making the heart of the story the 21-month-old’s devastating testimony of exposure and abuse due to a bioengineered birth defect. Hearing the Creature, 21st-century readers can put into words a child’s right to be genetically modified—meaning, to live, love, and flourish as such, between birth and adulthood, in conditions of non-discrimination with regard to reproductive circumstances and genetic features.
BIO: Eileen Hunt Botting is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, whose current work focuses on feminist theory, children’s rights, and bioethics. She is most recently the author of Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child: Political Philosophy in ‘Frankenstein’ (Penn Press, 2017).