Filial Obligations to Elderly Parents: A Duty to Care?
Stuifbergen, Maria C
Van Delden, Johannes J M
Medicine, health care, and philosophy 2011 Feb; 14(1): 63-71
A continuing need for care for elderly, combined with looser family structures prompt the question what filial obligations are. Do adult children of elderly have a duty to care? Several theories of filial obligation are reviewed. The reciprocity argument is not sensitive to the parent-child relationship after childhood. A theory of friendship does not offer a correct parallel for the relationship between adult child and elderly parent. Arguments based on need or vulnerability run the risk of being unjust to those on whom a needs-based claim is laid. To compare filial obligations with promises makes too much of parents' expectations, however reasonable they may be. The good of being in an unchosen relationship seems the best basis for filial obligations, with an according duty to maintain the relationship when possible. We suggest this relationship should be maintained even if one of the parties is no longer capable of consciously contributing to it. We argue that this entails a duty to care about one's parents, not for one's parents. This implies that care for the elderly is not in the first place a task for adult children.
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