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Starting a family has a point in time, but the family one starts or enlarges may have no intended or foreseen end. In addition to these temporal features, parenthood as family-making carries distinguishing spatial, or topological features. Child-tending may require fences and shelter that protect children from the elements, animals, kidnappers, while child-rearing requires rooms and other places for instruction, practice, study, and playful time-off.

But for family-making and maintaining, what matters most is a home. Parents may make a home for their family in various places--trailers, caves, tree-houses, or even welfare hotel rooms but not welfare shelters, aptly named , so long as it remains a place of relative security and easy return. In addition to these distinctive features of time and place, there are special assessments of parents as makers and maintainers of a family. Relatedly, parents may create a secure or fearful home, a hospitable or clanish home, a cooperative or competitive homelife, a loyal or disloyal family feeling.

These are the very terms in which political rulers are assessed. Like rulers, parents wield economic and psychological power, as well as the threat of physical force, over their children, aging parents, and other family dependents. Not surprisingly, philosophers have found political analogies the most illuminating of parental roles. Locke assigned regal powers to both mothers and fathers, for the purpose of raising children to neither need nor desire monarchs in adulthood. The dangers of such parental power is obvious from exercises of political powers. As in political communities, some family members have the power to define those common values and hence dissent, as well as the power to silence dissent so defined through shame or the threat of expulsion.

Despots aside, traditional families are still liable to various political faults, including subversion of civic values and communal life. Families, he thought, were acquisitive and hence corrupting of civil servants. On the other hand, families may foster civic virtues by preserving and embellishing tales of virtuous ancestors who were Abolitionists, political opponents of corrupt officeholders, volunteers in the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

The desire to emulate family saints or carry on a family tradition of political courage may be more influential that the moral admonitions of school teachers and clergy. Like parental maxims, family stories may have directive influence throughout life. Despite differences in analogies, appraisals, spatial requirements, and temporal perspectives, these three concepts of parenthood are often harmoniously combined, for better or for worse. In many families, young girls may be fed less and later than their brothers, thereby being trained to contribute more to daily family life and preparing them for adult roles as wives and mothers.

Yet conflict of the three parental concerns and concepts is always possible and is often invoked in parental disputes. Sometimes physicians and probate judges will be drawn into such disputes, or themselves become disputants. Physicians often seek temporary guardianship of children whose parents refuse clearly beneficial treatment, such as chemotherapy for leukemia, as in the publicized case of Chad Greene.

On occasion, it may be the physicians who take the role of child-tending protectors against parents who are focusing, as zealous child-raisers, solely on long-range consequences. Growth hormones provide an example.

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Pediatricians might well refuse, wishing to protect the child from a long, arduous treatment with uncertain promise--a refusal parents would find short-sighted and overprotective. Rather than a dispute between a child-protecting physician and a child-raising parent, the dispute may between a child-raising physician and a family-making and maintaining parent. Suppose that parents with achondroplastic dwarfism refuse to have their second child treated with growth hormones on the following familial grounds:. Our first son was treated with success: several years of treatment with growth hormone put him into the low end of the normal height range by the age of 7.


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But, as he grew, it became difficult for us to restrain or protect him, physically. Moreover, he became increasingly embarrassed by our height and refused to bring his friends home, even for birthday parties. If pressed, he would admit that we worked in the circus, but he said we were musicians, not clowns. His intention is to leave home as soon as possible and support himself by whatever work he can find, preferably far away.

Admittedly, a small person has fewer job options than other people, but a small son would not have to stay in the circus, even if that is what we might hope and help him prepare for. Employers in other fields are becoming more accommodating, thanks to anti-discrimination law, TV exposure, and efforts of Little People of America to foster both self-pride and public acceptance. But regardless of the work he does, he and we will have the rewards of continuing family ties that his brother has foregone.

How might physicians or judges respond? How should they? Are there any principles which address this case and argument? On this view, it is a principal parental duty to help a child to develop the capacity for autonomy. Do the dwarf parents violate this liberal, Option-maximizing principle OMP? Yes, although perhaps not to the extent that the Amish, Hasidim, and some local social elite Boston Brahmins?

To that extent his future is less "open" than it would be with medical treatment. Being realistic and uncoercive, recall, were positive assessments of parental child-raisers. To insure that compliance, the Amish must be more coercive than Hasidim and Boston Brahmins whose worlds are far less isolated, even if still rigidly defining. A number of adult occupations require early and steady preparation for careers in music, athletics, Talmudic scholarship, acrobatics.

Such early specialization will almost certainly leave a child quite unprepared for a whole range of occupations which jointly are more promising, financially and otherwise. Does the OMP allow such specialization? It would seem not. If OMP does rule out such specializations, however, then it requires that these parents forego to abandon their fondest parental hopes and goals in favor of more likely, but less rewarding lines of work and kinds of life for their children.

Such restrictions are, I think, unrealistic: How can we expect parents to raise children whole-heartedly for a whole range of lives they regard as all inferior to the life they are able and eager to foster for their children? Think here of a cook having every day to set out a vast smorgasbord. What incentive does she have to cook, if her specialties are bound to be lost or ignored among the vast array of other dishes, many of which she herself has little taste for?

Few children will accept such heavy bookings without resistance, nor can the parental pressures required be easily construed as autonomy-training. Again, think of a child being forced to sample too many dishes from a smorgasbord. It requires that parents provide life-prospects, or possibilities for a child that. The greater the uncertainty about those long-range circumstances, the greater the range of life-prospects parents should foster or allow.

But, as the second condition makes clear, in this provision for the future, parents need not include life possibilities likely to cause them or their child deep distress if the child were to realize any of them. Before applying this principle to the dwarf parents, let us examine the meaning and epistemic demands of this proposed principle.

As such, they include the forms of love and work a culture approves, or at least accepts.

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In late 20th century, North Atlantic societies, almost all kinds of computer work are approved, while gay and lesbian domestic partnership and child-rearing are increasingly accepted, even if not endorsed. In the second condition, I speak of realizing , not choosing a life-prospect. Choice plays a far smaller part in patterns of love and work than liberal or autonomy theorists presuppose. Much about the lives we lead are the result of chance, temperament, the influence of others.

Even if we have several life-prospects in our youth or later, there may be no moments or deliberative decisions that mark the realizing of one or the other. Hence, the occasional shock when on reflection someone sees clearly the course of their life, much as a sailor without a compass, chart, or visible destination suddenly realizes the course she is on across a bay with few landmarks or buoys.

Sherwin argues that the powerful desires that many people, especially women, have for their own biological children are the product of problematic social arrangements and cultural values. While reproductive technologies like IVF may help some privileged women get what they want, they also further entrench the oppressive societal values that create these powerful desires in the first place.

IVF typically results in creating more embryos than are used in the fertility treatment.

The Great Gamble of Parenthood—Can You Be Held Responsible for the Actions of Your Children?

The remaining embryos may be given to other women for implantation, donated for research, destroyed, or cryogenically stored. A study estimated that there are , cryogenically stored embryos in the United States Hoffman et al. Depending on one's view of the moral importance of human embryos this may be considered an especially worrying consequence of IVF. People who believe that such embryos have the same moral status as humans will judge that destroying them is wrong and creating them without a plan for implantation is comparably bad. The use of surplus embryos as a source of totipotent stem cells for medical research has generated objections from religious groups and conservatives opposed to abortion.

Consistency would seem to require that anyone who objects to using these embryos in research ought also to object to their creation in the first place, since it almost inevitably results in surplus embryos that will eventually be destroyed. Typically in return for payment, the gestational mother carries a child derived from the gametes of one or both members of the contracting couple and agrees to give the child over to the couple after birth. Many of the disputes surrounding surrogacy focus on the question of who should be given parental rights and responsibilities if the arrangement breaks down.

In some cases, neither party to the arrangement wants to keep the baby; in other cases both parties want to keep it. Indeed, much of the impetus for recent accounts of the grounds of parenthood has derived from attempts to adjudicate such disputes section 4. For them, the right to procreate is a special case of the right to make binding contracts.

But it is not settled whether such contracts ought to be legal and, if so, enforceable. One central point of contention is whether gestational surrogacy involves commodification—for example, by entailing that the gestational mother is selling her baby—or whether it is no different in kind from other forms of paid childcare Anderson ; Radin ; Glover et al.

A further concern has to do with whether anyone who undertakes a contractual obligation to surrender custody of future children can do so autonomously. Some writers argue that such decisions cannot be autonomous, and hence that surrogacy contracts should not only be unenforceable but also illegal Dodds and Jones b; see Purdy and Oakley for a response. Others reject bans on surrogacy contracts as paternalistic but nevertheless urge that safeguards should be in place, such as mandated post-natal waiting periods during which the gestational mother is permitted to change her mind Steinbock Surrogacy is now regulated in most countries.

Commercial surrogacy is widely, though not universally, illegal. To what extent this distinction actually matters morally is disputed Anleu Some couples who undergo IVF also opt for preimplantation genetic diagnosis PGD whereby the genomes of their embryos are analyzed and particular embryos then selected for implantation. This is more common among couples at risk for transmitting a genetic disease or who are trying to create a child compatible with an existing ill child so that she can be used as a source of donated stem cells. However, it can be used for selecting for or against other traits, such as gender, or disability—for example, some deaf parents want to raise children who inherit their deafness.

Such uses of PGD are controversial on gender selection see Robertson ; Purdy ; Heyd ; on selecting deafness see Karpin Though current technology is mostly limited to selecting among existing embryos, the prospect of genetically altering gametes or embryos has generated questions about the permissibility of genetic enhancement. Several recent critics of genetic enhancement argue that permitting enhancement is liable to undermine important human values.

Sandel argues that the control that enhancement technology would allow parents is liable to undermine their humility in the face of the gift of their children, impose responsibilities that we are not prepared to deal with, and threaten social solidarity Sandel Habermas argues that parents who genetically enhance their children will, through the control they exert, prevent their children from entering relationships of moral equality and undermine their ability to be autonomous Habermas Both have been criticized for exaggerating the likely effects of permitting enhancement technologies Fenton ; Lev A second argument against permitting parents to genetically enhance their offspring is that it is liable to exacerbate unfairness.

Enhancements will probably be available only to richer parents. As a result, their offspring, who are already advantaged over their peers, would be even better able to compete against them Etieyibo This is commonly raised as a particular objection to genetic or other biomedical enhancements, but it is not clear why there is something distinctive about genetic enhancement that renders it more troubling than other ways in which parents attempt to enhance their children, such as private schooling.

The fairness objection also assumes that the advantages of genetic enhancement are competitive advantages, so that an enhancement would make the recipient better able to compete with others for goods such as careers and social status. This assumption underlies concerns both that the availability of enhancements would exacerbate existing inequalities and that if universally available they would be collectively self-defeating as, for example, if everyone were to add 6 inches to their height Glannon However, this assumption might be false; for example, literacy is a non-genetic enhancement which is beneficial both to the literate person and others Buchanan While most discussions of the ethics of genetic enhancement have focused on whether the practice is ever permissible, some ethicists argue that it is not only permissible for parents to enhance their children, but a positive duty.

Savulescu argues for what he calls the principle of Procreative Beneficence: couples should use pre-genetic diagnosis and selective abortion to choose the child, of the children they could have, who will have the best life. This naturally extends to using genetic enhancement. Savulescu's justification for the principle of Procreative Beneficence is that it seems irrational not to select the best child when no other reasons are relevant to one's choice.

But this seems like a very weak principle: it seems likely that at least some other reason will frequently apply. For example, prospective parents might just prefer to leave their child's genetic makeup up to chance. If this is not an irrational preference, then it plausibly gives some reason for them not to select any particular embryo to implant. Savulescu's view is extended in further papers which claim that the principle of Procreative Beneficence has greater moral weight than simply being a tiebreaker when no other reasons apply Savulescu and Kahane , ; for criticism see Parker Finally, controversy is not limited to genetic interventions: there are live debates about whether parents may choose male circumcision, clitoridectomy, marrow donation, sex assignment of inter-sexed children, and other surgical interventions see, e.

In virtue of what does one become a moral parent, i. We can distinguish four general answers: genetic, labor-based, intentional or voluntarist , and causal accounts. On monistic versions, only one of these properties generates parental relationships. On pluralistic accounts, more than one of these relations can ground parenthood. Genetic theories ground parenthood in the relation of direct genetic derivation. Geneticism thus places parenthood in the nexus of other familial relations, such as being a sibling, cousin, and so on, which appear to have a genetic basis.

Hall defends geneticism by appeal to the Lockean notion of self-ownership. Since genetic parents own the genetic material from which the child is constituted, they have a prima facie parental claim to the child. First, it subsumes parental relations under property relations, by attempting to derive a claim about parenthood from premises involving claims about ownership. The plausibility of this derivation is based on emphasizing parental rights associated with exclusivity and authority, and downplaying parental responsibilities. Those responsibilities—to both child and community—pull sharply against a property-based analysis of parenthood.

Second, taking self-ownership seriously entails that children own themselves, and this surely defeats any proprietary claim that their parents might have in them Archard Third, genetic parents do not provide the material from which the child is constituted in utero ; that derives from the gestational mother, not the genetic parents Silver Of course, the child's genetic make-up structures that matter, but to argue for the priority of the genetic over the gestational contribution is to argue for the priority of form over matter, and it is not obvious that this can be done.

Other arguments for geneticism derive from considering paternity, in that direct genetic derivation appears to provide the most plausible account of the basis of fatherhood. Several recent legal cases have overturned adoptions on the grounds that the estranged father, unidentified at the time of birth, has returned to claim the child Rosenman , Shanley Supporters of these decisions endorse the view that unalienated genetic claims to children can override months or even years of rearing by the adoptive parents, as well as the earlier failure of the father to claim the child.

This seems to presuppose a genetic account of paternity; and it is a small step from a genetic account of paternity to a genetic account of parenthood. An alternative account views parents' work, rather than their genetic relationships, as essential to the parental relation. According to these labor-based accounts, people who play or have played a parental role in a child's life have thereby become the parents. In this spirit, a number of authors have argued that the primary ground of parenthood is the gestational relation Rothman ; Feldman In reproductive contexts in which a child's gestational mother differs from its genetic mother—as in egg or embryo donation and gestational surrogacy—it is therefore the gestational mother who has the primary claim to parental rights and responsibilities.

This line of argument can be expanded to include people besides the gestational mother who have taken a parental role in rearing a child Millum Two main considerations are presented in favor of labor-based accounts. One focuses on the interests of the child. Where a child has been looked after by a person or people for some time, it is thought to be very damaging for her to be taken away from them Archard Likewise, in the case of gestation, since the gestational mother is guaranteed to be identifiable at birth, it is in the best interests of the child that she be regarded as the mother Annas However, while recognizing the gestational mother or caregivers as parents will sometimes serve the best interests of the child, it is implausible that this will always be the case.

This argument might, at best, ground laws presuming that the gestational mother and rearing parents have a claim to be the legal parents. Since there will likely be cases in which being reared by someone else would be better for the child, it will be difficult to justify the assignment of parenthood on the grounds of labor in every case. A second line of argument appeals to what parents deserve for the work they do. Gestational mothers typically invest a substantial amount of effort into the child.

While this account appears to give a special role to gestational mothers, it can include parenting partners who help bear the costs or contribute to establishing a relationship for example, by viewing an ultrasound image together. Similarly, the people who care for a child invest a great deal of work. It might therefore be thought that they deserve to be the parents Millum Labor-based accounts have the advantage over genetic accounts that they can explain why the individuals they pick out as the parents ought to have parental rights.

They also incorporate adoptive and other non-biological parental relationships into a single account of parenthood, whereas genetic accounts seem forced to view non-biological parenthood as a distinct type of normative relationship. Broader labor-based accounts that count the work of other caregivers can explain fatherhood, but they still seem to give the gestational mother veto power over other potential parents. Some will find this implausible. A third approach to parenthood, popular with legal theorists, appeals to intentions as the ground of parenthood Hill ; Parker ; Shultz ; Stumpf Intentionalists motivate their position by appeal to cases like the following.

They then select a gestational mother, who carries the fetus to term and then hands the infant over to the Khans. Bruce is about to undergo some risky medical treatment, and has placed some of his sperm in a sperm-bank in case he needs it at a later date. Through a bureaucratic mishap, Bruce's sperm is swapped with that of a sperm-donor and is used by Bessie to produce a child. Does Bruce acquire parental rights and responsibilities over Bessie's child? Intuitions vary here, but there is at least some pull towards denying that Bruce's genetic relation to Bessie's child gives him any parental claim over it.

The reason Bruce lacks a parental relation to Bessie's child seems to be that he didn't intentionally bring the child into existence. Intentionalism construes parenthood as relying on facts about agency rather than biology; for the intentionalist, parenthood is fundamentally a moral relationship rather than a biological one see Fuscaldo , for discussion. Some philosophical defenses of intentionalism appeal to a voluntaristic account of responsibilities in general Van Zyl If special obligations to particular others are generally acquired voluntarily, then it is plausible that parental obligations are also voluntarily incurred O'Neill ; Brake , ; for criticism see Prusak a, b.

Furthermore, parental obligations are role obligations. While it is a matter of debate whether any role obligations can be acquired involuntarily, it is at least plausible that roles assumed as adults as opposed to roles one is born into require voluntary acceptance. Finally, parental role obligations are conventional: their scope and content varies by jurisdiction and society Thompson This suggests an unfairness if such extensive obligations are incurred involuntarily Brake On the other hand, once it is recognized that parental obligations are conventional, the content of parental obligations and the voluntary actions required to acquire them can be explained with reference to social conventions of parenthood Millum One objection to intentionalism concerns the content of the intentions that are supposed to ground parenthood.

Consider a case in which a couple conceives by accident and then form intentions to give up the baby for adoption rather than rear it. This intention endures until 15 minutes after birth, at which point they change their minds and decide to rear the child.

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It is highly implausible that for the first 15 minutes of the child's life they are no more its parents than anyone else. Perhaps the most widespread objection to the voluntarist account is that it seems to absolve unintending procreators from parental obligation.


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  4. However, many share the view that procreators, intending or not, who voluntarily engaged in sex have a moral responsibility to a resulting child due to their role in causing it to exist Austin ; Fuscaldo ; Millum Whatever the prospects of a voluntarist account of parenthood, a voluntarist account of familial relations in general is implausible. The duties that siblings have to each other, or that children have to their parents, are not easily understood as voluntary undertakings. This is a problem for voluntarist accounts of parenthood to the extent that duties between parents and children should fit within a wider framework of familial duties Rachels ; Mills ; see Mullin , for discussion; and the entry on special obligations.

    Finally, parenthood may be grounded in causation Nelson ; Bigelow et al. A causal account differs from intentionalism in that one can cause something without intending to do so. Indeed, one can cause a certain state of affairs even when one is unaware that one's actions could do so. One needn't have grasped the connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy in order to be the cause of a child's existence. One of the attractions of causalism is its promise to account for the plausibility of genetic, labor-based, and intentional accounts of parenthood.

    Genetic, gestational, and caregiving relationships contribute to the child's existence or development, and, in the cases that some intentionalists appeal to, the commissioning couple are a cause of the child's existence. Causalism offers to explain its competitors. Second, what implications does the causal account have? Even with a satisfactory account of causation it may be unclear whom the account ascribes parenthood to in any particular case—or if it is clear enough, there is a risk of an ad hoc account of causation tailor-made for this purpose.

    Concern with the arbitrariness of the causal chain by means of which a child may be created leads writers such as Fuscaldo to emphasize that what is wanted is not a theory of causation but of agency see also Austin , This leads back in the direction of intentionalism. A related problem is that causal accounts often leave it unclear how causal responsibility generates moral responsibility. Pluralist accounts have not yet been developed in depth.

    Having outlined the main theories of the grounds of parenthood, we turn now to questions concerning the morality of being a parent. Most contemporary discussions assume that moral parental rights and responsibilities or obligations are inseparable Bayne and Kolers To take Archard's example, an estranged, abusive parent may have moral and legal support obligations but no parental rights; obligations to ensure a child is provided for do not entail parental rights.

    It is more plausible, as Archard notes, that parental rights and responsibilities—which, as contrasted with obligations, concern the hands-on, day-to-day rearing of the child—come together. Even these, in some circumstances, might come apart—as when an estranged parent retains some decision-making rights but holds no responsibilities.

    Parents have moral and legal rights regarding their children. They have the liberty to make decisions on behalf of their children regarding matters such as diet, schooling, association with others, and—controversially—religious observance, and the right to exclude others from such decision-making. Such rights decrease in strength and scope as children gain decision-making capacity, yet until the child reaches moral or legal competence, issues of substituted judgment and surrogate decision-making remain Ross Parental rights' content, extent, and relation to parental obligations is determined by the underlying theory of why parents possess such rights.

    On the child-centered or fiduciary model, parental rights piggyback on parental responsibilities to children, which are morally fundamental. It is in the first instance because a dependent child must have decisions made for it that a designated parent is entitled to make those decisions. Other theories of parental rights focus on parents' interests.

    Historically, parenthood has often been regarded as a possessory or proprietary relationship. Some genetic accounts of parenthood imply the proprietarian view that parents own their children see 4. However, property rights seem inappropriate here for several reasons: children cannot be sold and they cannot be used however the parent wishes.

    While it might be responded that parental property rights are limited, prohibiting sale and certain uses, this does not address the more fundamental objection that persons cannot be property. Other theories provide more plausible support for parent-centered, as opposed to child-centered, accounts of parental rights. Brighouse and Swift argue for parental rights on the basis of the irreplaceable good offered by parenting. Because parenting is a project with goods which cannot be obtained through other activities, such as the responsibility of caring for a child and the receipt of children's spontaneous trust, affection, and intimacy, the interest in parenting should be protected.

    On this account, parental rights, not parental obligations, are fundamental, because the parents' interests are the basis for the right Brighouse and Swift , ; see also Shoeman Brighouse and Swift generate this account partly in response to the challenge of redistribution: why should children not be redistributed at birth to the best prospective parents, to maximize children's welfare? But as Gheaus points out, while Brighouse and Swift provide an account of fundamental parental rights, they do not explain why biological parents have rights to rear their biological children, rather than such children being redistributed to better prospective parents, who could thereby undertake their own parenting projects Gheaus Finally, a dual-interest view, grounding rights in interests of both parents and children, is also possible Macleod One important question concerning the content of parental rights is their extent.

    One controversial right is the right to infuse children with parents' religious beliefs. On the one hand, handing down such beliefs to children is, to many, a key aspect of the parental project Brighouse and Swift , However, the right to an open future appears too demanding: many parental acts, such as opting for cello over violin lessons, narrow children's options later, but they seem acceptable.

    From a feminist perspective, Okin argued that religious infusion could affect girls' developing self-respect and equal opportunity Okin But even if such arguments theoretically justify state intervention, their proponents must explain how, in practice, the state could intervene in the intimate parent-child relationship without psychologically harming children.

    Other questions concerning parental rights concern exclusivity and the number of possible parents. As step-parenting, procreation involving multiple biological, gestational, and social parents, and other diverse family forms become more prevalent, why should the number of parents be limited to two?

    As noted in Section 1 above, a Canadian court recognized a child as having three parents. Relatives in addition to the parents are frequently involved in raising children, even in cultures in which the nuclear family is considered the norm.

    Norvin Richards, The Ethics of Parenthood (Book Review)

    In the United States, nearly 3 million grandparents have primary responsibility for children living in their homes and it has been argued that grandparental rights should be legally recognized Henderson So far, we have considered parental rights as parents' moral and legal claims to make, and exclude others from, decisions regarding their child. But some philosophers have argued for other rights held by parents—namely, positive rights to social support for child-rearing.

    These proposals are discussed in 5. Parenthood inhabits the intersection of two distinct relationships: a custodial relationship between parent and child, and a trustee relationship between the parents and the larger society or other collective. Both may generate responsibilities. The custodial relationship involves a set of duties aimed at, and justified by, the welfare of the child. View abstract. By Michael Cholbi. By Russell DiSilvestro. By Jaime Ahlberg. Lindsey Chambers.

    By Robert Noggle. By Mianna Lotz. By Roger Marples. By Marc Ramsay. By Ashli Anda. By Michael W.