Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ethics of Incest

We had a senior thesis writer this semester look at the ethical limiting case of incest. So, it seemed a bit odd when this story broke only a week after her thesis defense:

A Columbia University professor has been arrested on charges of having sexual relations with his daughter, officials said on Friday. David Epstein, 46, a political science professor at the Ivy League school, faces one count of incest in the third degree, according to a complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. He had relations with his daughter, now 24, from 2006 through 2009, the complaint said. Epstein was released on his own recognizance after appearing before a judge on Thursday. His attorney, Matthew Galluzzo, said on Friday that Epstein was innocent of the "unwarranted and unfair charges."
The student argued that while there are certainly cases of immoral sexual contact between relatives, one cannot give a blanket prohibition against all cases of incest. If one were to consider cases -- which this may or may not be -- of consensual contact between adults, say a brother and sister, such that procreation could not occur, she argued that libertarian type concerns would say that there is no reason to impinge on bodily autonomy.

I argued with her all semester that sexualizing inherently non-sexual relationships of various types -- doctor/patient, teacher/student, sibling/sibling -- even if consensual, when viewed from a larger context, would undermine the other element of the relationship, not to mention the relationships to those beyond the two. This harm, I contended, would outweigh the other concerns. She argued that this is true of all sorts of cases, sexual and non-sexual, and the fact that life is messy doesn't give grounds for limiting one's choices with one's own body. There need to be extremely severe concerns to curtail such a basic right, and these do not rise to that level.

So, the question today is what would be the moral argument to preclude adult/adult non-reproductive consensual incestuous relations?