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Law and MedicineCurrent Legal Issues Volume 3$
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Michael Freeman and Andrew Lewis

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198299189

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299189.001.0001

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Symbolic Harm and Reproductive Practices

Symbolic Harm and Reproductive Practices

(p.326) (p.327) Symbolic Harm and Reproductive Practices
Law and Medicine

Elisabeth Boetzkes

Oxford University Press

This chapter attempts to outline a logic, taxonomy, and justification for the notion of symbolic harm as legal harm, and to apply it to the practices of contract pregnancy and sex selection. Both these practices (and others, for instance, the retrieval of germ cells from aborted female foetuses for in vitro fertilization) stimulate consequentialist objections and raise worries about the interests of women. However, once the dust settles around such debates, there is a deontological residue which has yet to be captured and analysed within our legal framework. Although symbolic harm alone may not ‘trump’, it is important to recognize its role as sometimes a symptom, sometimes a constituent, and sometimes a herald of harmful practices. Where practices are novel, developing swiftly, and supported by significant economic interests, it is important and appropriate to consider the impact of such practices upon the project of achieving the good of personhood. And if we view the state as having a responsibility to depict and respond to its members in morally appropriate ways, it must pay attention to both the symbolic meanings attaching to social practices and the symbolism of its own pronouncements and silences.

Keywords:   symbolic harm, legal harm, contract pregnancy, sex selection, economic interests

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