UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of March 2017: Tina Rulli

Tina Rulli

Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis


10527692_10153091261912571_1045188497882742526_nAOS: Applied Ethics, Bioethics/Medical Ethics, Child, Family, Parenting, and Reproduction Ethics, Ethics, Normative Ethics

My dissertation was the launch pad for my diverse research agenda. I argued for a duty of prospective parents to adopt children rather than create them. We ought to provide critical benefits to existing people rather than create new people to give those benefits to instead. My research touches on the following issues: population ethics and the value of creation; the scope and force of the duty to rescue; limits to the demands of morality and the possibility for moral options to do less than the best; and the moral significance of genetic relatedness.

I’m working on a population ethics question that arises in the adoption/procreation choice, but is also relevant to immigration and population policy. Why should we spend resources on creating new lives and benefiting those lives when there are so many existing people in critical need of those same resources? Or rather, how should we decide in cases of conflict between saving lives or creating lives? I argue that we ought to prioritize benefits to those in critical need over the creation of new people, even on the assumption that creation can be a benefit. The challenge for this argument is to avoid the pitfalls of moral actualism—the view that only actual people matter morally.

I am also writing on what I call “conditional obligations.” Conditional obligations arise when although some action A is merely optional, if an agent chooses A, she is required to do optimal B rather than some other beneficial action C, where C is better than not doing A at all. An example: it may be optional for a company to open a factory in a developing country. But if they do so, they must open a factory that meets labor standards rather than open a sweatshop. This is the case even though opening the sweatshop on the whole would bring about more good than not opening a factory at all. I examine a range of such cases and argue that this obligation structure is not incoherent and should be expected in moral theories that embrace moral permissions to do less than the best.

My past research in bioethics focused on applications of the duty to rescue in clinical research and medical contexts. Recently, I’ve been writing on the ethics of mitochondrial replacement techniques—novel in vitro fertilization methods that allow women with mitochondrial disease to have genetically-related children by using a donor egg and mitochondria in the creation of their children. I argue that proponents of the technology misleadingly claim that the technology is life-saving and mistakenly assume that the preference for genetic relatedness is significantly valuable enough to justify public investment in the technology.

Many philosophers may think that practical ethics is derivative—that we figure out the normative theoretical work and then apply it to concrete issues. My research experience has proven to me that ethics can work in the other direction: reflection on practical ethics can provide fruitful insight on the theoretical issues.