Moral agency is not inherent to a human’s birth. It takes time to lean the difference between right and wrong. It takes experience to understand the nuances between what it feels like to be making a value judgement, and what it feels like to be a victim of coercion. It takes a well-reasoned, philosophical approach to human interaction to truly understand the importance of the universalizability of principles and rights. Humans may be peculiar in that they engage in purposeful behavior, but that does not mean that all humans have the capacity to understand what that means, along with the implications.
It is because of this lack of moral agency that we do not enter contracts with the mentally disabled. This is also precisely the reason that we do not engage in contracts or sexual relationships with children; moral actions require reciprocity. Those who are unable to understand the consequences of their decisions should not be held to them, and this is where the concept of guardianship comes into play.
A guardian is one who is authorized to act on behalf of a human who lacks moral agency, who would become a ward of the guardian. The guardian would act on behalf of the ward in terms of ensuring personal well-being and an actualization of financial interests. The most common form of guardianship is a parent’s of their child, though it can stem from many situations (seniors who have become incapacitated, developmentally disabled individuals, those who have had injuries effect cognitive abilities).
Estoppel and Parental Obligations
In common law, the doctrine of estoppel bars one from contradicting themselves in transactions and other interactions. The intent here is to minimize victimization of parties who enter in a contract under a detrimental reliance; which is when one party puts themselves in a precarious situation by acting on the consent of another.
For a crude example, imagine Paul has hired Peter to create 50 lapel pins for an event. Peter sends Paul and email mock-up of the design for approval. Paul decides the design checks out and gives Peter the go-ahead to create the pins. After the pins are created, Paul decides he no longer wants the design Peter had produced. In this situation, Paul may effectively be estopped from asserting his right to withdraw consent from the transaction.
Estoppel applies in application to interactions outside of transactions, as well. Imagine I invite you onto my private airplane. It is an expression of my right to property to allow you to use it. The flip-side of this manifestation is that I also possess the authority to withdraw my consent, meaning I can prohibit you from being on or using said property. If, however, I decide that, mid-flight, I wish to revoke my consent, I can be estopped from doing so. This is because revoking my consent (i.e. throwing you out of the airplane) would expose you to certain death. You only boarded the airplane contingent upon my consent; you engaged in this interaction with a detrimental reliance. I have an obligation to ensure that your well-being once again is in your hands. It is important to note that if you did not posses moral agency, that your guardian would act on your behalf, and this reliance would still apply.
Extending this concept to childbearing and parenting, it becomes self-evident that a parent has an obligation to care for their child. This is due to a few reasons:
Children are not moral agents.
Simply put, they cannot consent. Getting pregnant is not through purposeful action of the offspring. Getting someone pregnant is not through purposeful action of the offspring. Lacking moral agency facilitates the need for guardianship. Considering that there are no guardians inherent to inception, we can deduce that a human life attaching itself the uterine wall is in reaction to the actions of the parents, and not purposeful of it’s own accord.
Considering their inability to consent, one should not be surprised to not be contacted for contract when a child of yours starts to spring into existence. Consequence is something that moral agents have the capability to understand. It is no secret that sexual intercourse creates offspring. Engaging in consensual sexual intercourse is consenting to be a host and/or a guardian for potential children.
To claim that one did not consent to being a host of a baby would be to claim that the baby possesses enough agency to have made that decision on their own, this line of thought lends credence to many harrowing implications of what children can consent to. In absence of moral agency, children still respond and react to their environment and other stimuli. The distinction between this reaction and purposeful action is that the former is a response to current events/atmosphere, and the latter implies that one is using means they currently have to achieve an end that is desired. Those who claim that a baby violates their mother’s NAP by using her as a host make the fundamental mistake of assuming the baby had any other option, and could engage in purposeful action in the first place.
To conclude, the justification for parental obligations lies in logical consistency. To claim that a human offspring could violate the NAP of it’s parents would imply reciprocity. Without this moral agency, BOTH parents have a responsibility to ensure their child’s well-being and financial stability. Absent the offspring’s ability to reason and make value judgements, the selection of its host can be classified as merely a reaction, ruling out the notion that they have violated the consent of their parents.