The distinction suggested by Kant his Critique of Practical Reason is between perfect obligations and imperfect obligations. The former kind of obligation consists in what might be thought of as absolute or binding duties not to act directly to violate a human right.
The introduction of imperfect obligations extends the reach of human rights to this universal level by involving "the demand that serious consideration be given by anyone in a position to provide reasonable help to the person whose human right is threatened." (27)
As a means of answering this critique, Sen returns to the concept he has already developed about the different kinds of obligations a right establishes upon human agents, in particular, both perfect and imperfect obligations. In both cases, it is the importance and influenceability of the freedoms inherent in the right that call forth obligations on the part of the actors who are in some position to do something to uphold the freedom.
By surfacing Kant's distinction between perfect and imperfect obligations in the context of what are thought to be important and influenceable freedoms, Sen has provided the moral argument against those who would say "it's not my problem." If the freedoms are as important as we say they are (even indirectly in the extent to which we would not want to be deprived of them ourselves), then they do call for careful consideration of the way in which their realization may occur in the lives of more and more people.
In a world of "imperfect obligations
," there is great enthusiasm for a revitalized synergy between bioethics and human rights, with ethical frameworks structuring competing considerations of utility, equity, and capability to create just health policy.
These obligations, which O'Neill terms imperfect obligations
, are held by all subjects, are reflected in aspects of character, and, depending upon the nature of the obligation, will be expressed in varied situations (universal imperfect obligations--e.g., kindness) or in the context of specific relationships (special imperfect obligations--e.g., trust in a commercial relationship).
In contrast, Mill thought imperfect obligations
could not be enforced by the state; they were obligations that we should perform, but we were free to choose the time and circumstances of our performance.
To begin with rights and suppose that obligations emerge as mere correlatives of these is to rule out this possibility from the beginning, The book provides logically independent distinctions between perfect and imperfect obligations
(those that do and those that do not give rise to correlative rights) and between universal and special obligations (those had by all persons and those arising from special relations).
In imperfect obligations
, "though the act is obligatory, the particular occasions of performing it are left to our choice, as in the case of charity or beneficence, which we are indeed bound to practice, but not toward any definite person, nor at any prescribed time."(2) This approach leads to the following definition of imperfect duties.
(61)) The obligation in question is then an imperfect obligation, using this term in contrast to a perfect obligation to mark the distinction between obligations with counterpart rights (namely, perfect obligations) and obligations without counterpart rights (namely, imperfect obligations).
So to answer my question: While making an adoption plan is justifiable when, during a pregnancy, parents realize that they cannot provide for the child as they are obliged to do, to seek to conceive a child with the idea of giving him or her up is wrong since it flouts the special imperfect obligation that a parent has toward his or her child to seek to make his or her life good in ways that only a parent can.
In other words, while it appears that the surrogate does not violate any perfect obligations toward the child, the surrogate may violate an imperfect obligation toward the child to love him or her in ways that only a parent can.