An ABC News story from 2009 turned up on my ethics radar.
Tim Browne, a retired teacher and musician from Wiltshire, England, was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was operated on a week before his daughter’s wedding, but the cancer had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. Doctors said it was terminal.
While he was undergoing chemotherapy, his daughter suggested an unconventional treatment: her breast milk. She had seen a TV report about an American man who had made a miraculous recovery from prostate cancer by drinking it. Soon Tim was having his morning cereal with daughter Georgia’s milk.
Georgia was nursing her 8-month-old son Monty and offered to set aside a few ounces of milk every day for Browne. Browne started calling Monty his “milk brother.” “If I have a lactating daughter, why not take advantage of her? As long as Monty didn’t mind,” Browne said.
There’s no evidence that breast milk really does treat cancer, but doctors said that as long as Browne believed it did, the succor might have a genuine placebo effect.
What do we properly call a father consuming his daughter’s breast milk? Is that too close to incest for comfort?Does it matter if it’s close, as long as it isn’t quite?
Utilitarian principles would clearly conclude that if the practice was necessary to save the father’s life, any moral objections would have to fall by the wayside, correct? Well, what if he just likes the taste? Then would drinking his child’s breast milk be unethical, if she didn’t mind (and Monty, of course)?
Let’s say this is quasi-incest. Does the taboo against incest make any sense when there is no danger of procreation, the father and daughter aren’t having sexual intercourse, and both are truly consenting adults? Where’s the harm? If the activity is unethical, there has to be some harm, somehow, somewhere. Is it a slippery slope? Does consuming breast milk constitute a significant enough breach of socially necessary barriers between father-daughter intimacy that we can confidently label it wrongful?
If drinking a daughter’s breast milk is OK morally and ethically, would Dad getting the beverage right from the source–that is, well, you know-–be morally or ethically objectionable while having it pumped out first would not?
What would Kant say (other than, “Ew!”)? If drinking one’s daughter’s breast milk became a health craze, would that be social problem?
Who sent me this story anyway?
[More breast-feeding ethics here]