Introduced amidst successive bioethical laws, the “parental project” was originally meant to specify the conditions in which a man-woman couple is granted access to medically assisted procreation. Over the course of years, this concept was assimilated to the desire of having a child, which alone legitimized the embryo’s dignity. Gènéthique goes over the facts along with Professor Benoît Bayle.


The parental project has become a key notion, supportive of the reproduction edifice: “From abortion to [artificial] reproduction techniques, the binding element is the all-powerful ‘parental project’. Faced with the absence of a parental project or, possibly, one that turns out to be disappointing or defective, a woman aborts. Driven by a parental project that nature seems reluctant to fulfil, people will turn to technique for the completion of the child of their dreams” [1]. It is also in the name of a parental project that a couple chooses to have recourse to contraception, or decides to stop taking it. The parental project remains an undeniable guiding principle concerning the way conception is managed.  Very popular, considered as the paradigm of the so-called “wanted” child, it rules over our minds because it is the result of a form of societal agreement, thus enabling people to justify not only the practice of abortion, as suggested by the sociologist Luc Boltanski [2], but also, more widely, the instrumentalization of the conceived human being from its first embryonic stage to later prenatal stages.


There is, indeed, no possible room for the respect of the human embryo’s life in our current society, because it is simply impossible to integrate the notion of respect in the heart of the various practices which contribute towards reproductive health, from modern contraception to artificial reproduction. We are, in this case, dealing with a technical fact, a scientific reality, and not an ideological vision. For example, medically assisted procreation was only able to be developed thanks to experiments carried out on human embryos, without any reproductive finality. Scientists thus had to free themselves from the respect of the human embryo to be able to develop such techniques [3]. On a different note, the use of IUDs and of most oral contraception excludes the possibility of respecting the human embryo, because of their possible or predominant anti-implantation effect. The procreation industry thus forces people to cut free from any ethical imperative relative to the respect of the life of the human embryo, without which it could not carry on developing, or even existing.



The notion of parental project thus supports the procreation edifice by ensuring the promotion of new duties. The ethical necessity of the respect of the life of the unborn child has not become simply optional; it has been reversed and must be abolished in the name of the supposed well-being of the child, which must not live if it was conceived inside an insufficiently elaborate parental project, because its life would hence be a burden: “The ultimate justification brings up the unhappiness of the person who would have been born, had the abortion not interrupted his/her development. It is precisely from that unhappiness that abortion has saved unborn babies” [5]. The parental project thus promotes a new moral that turns our opinion around when faced with the respect of the life of a developing human being. It creates a moral duty that consists in taking out unborn children who don’t conform to a presumably authentic parental project.  On the other hand, the parental project allows the limits to be transgressed, and justifies the instrumentalization of embryos within the boundaries set by procreative parental projects: for example, it is possible, in a double pre-implantation diagnosis, to overproduce human embryos to enable one of them to survive, in order to later use it to treat the disease of a sick brother or sister. Thus, as many as twenty-seven embryos were necessary in order for Ulmut Tahar, “designer baby”, to be born [6]. In that case also, the scientists had but little respect for the life of the embryos; the emphasis was entirely put on the magnified project of helping the sick brother or sister…



The parental project hence requires a verbal confirmation for any new-conceived human being: only a human embryo endowed with an authentic parental project could be granted some dignity; one void of any parental project has none. This reversal of values is quite practical: it is the parents’ desire, their project, which establishes the full humanity of the conceived human being. Only a child wanted within a parental project is human. The dignity of the human being that has been conceived thus finds itself subjected to an extrinsic recognition. But this relational ontology is flawed. Who would be bold enough to assert that the dignity of a human being must entirely depend on the desire that others, exterior people, have for it! The words of others cannot, alone, be constitutive of this dignity. The dignity of a human being exists intrinsically, otherwise it becomes arbitrary and random. The dignity of the human embryo, demonstrable through the indirect way of its violations [7], is no exception to the rule. As such, the parental project is well and truly a delusion used to hide the prenatal instrumentalization of the conceived human being. The greatly problematic nature of this delusion is widely felt, but, as everyone seems to benefit from it, no one can nor dares condemn it.