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Filial Obligations - Threats To Filial Obligations, Moral Justifications For Filial Obligations

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2

The phrase "filial obligations" is generally understood to refer to special duties—specific kinds of actions, services, and attitudes—that children must provide to their parents simply because they are those parents' offspring. Influential in many human cultures throughout history—"Honor thy father and thy mother" is a widely known example from Judaeo-Christian culture—the idea that children have duties to their parents remains familiar today. But filial obligation is also a complicated and controversial notion, involving questions concerning who counts as "parents" and as "children," whether parents can lose their claims to filial obligations by negligence or abuse, just what children are actually obliged to do for their parents, and, most fundamentally, why such obligations should be recognized at all. The questions raised by filial obligations are important not simply because family members can be confused or troubled about what they should do for each other, but also because social policies targeting older people sometimes presuppose that their children, rather than the state, ought to provide certain kinds of support. Without clarity about the nature and limits of filial obligations, both families and societies may expect the other to take the lead in supporting older persons, with the consequence that important needs go unmet.

The focus in this entry will be on duties of adult children to parents. Younger children are also generally thought to have filial obligations— primarily to respect and obey their parents—and such duties are at least somewhat controversial, as the "children's rights" movement attests (Purdy). However, duties assigned to dependent children raise fewer practical or theoretical problems than does the claim that independent adults have obligations to provide not solely respect, but also goods and services, to the people who bore, begot, or raised them.

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