Monday, 27 October 2014

Thoughts on the recent Abortion and Disability Debate - Ann Furedi & James Mumford

The abortion of those with a disability has been the subject of much media debate in recent months. You can listen to a debate on the topic between the head of  BPAS Ann Furedi and Ethicist James Mumford, the debate is based on recent tweet's from Richard Dawkin's.


I just had a few observations related to the debate and the philosophical basis for Dawkin's comments to "abort it and try again".

1. If the abortion of disabled fetuses is an affront to the dignity of those born with a disability then the abortion of a fetus without a disability ought to be an affront to the dignity of those without a disability.

2. Dawkin's comment about replacing a disabled fetus with a healthy one is not something he came up with himself, his views are based on Peter Singer's controversial replaceability principle in his book 'Practical Ethics'. What this entails is applying utilitarian ethical principles to the problem of fetal disability. Utilitarianism intends to minimize suffering and maximizing happiness, therefore, in the event of fetal disability the mother using utilitarian reasoning ought to kill the disabled fetus and replace them with a healthy one. This is because the death of the disabled fetus results in no future suffering for them and it maximizes happiness/pleasure through bringing a healthy infant into the world.

3. A few problems with the replaceability principle are that it assumes the total suffering of the disabled life will be greater than the healthy one. However, this cannot be definitively known, what if the 'healthy' fetus grows up to be a murderer/rapist/robber etc, or grows up to be a manic depressive who hates living but cannot bring about ending their life. There are numerous cases where the life of someone without a disability does not guarantee producing greater happiness on the utilitarian calculus. The replacement principle simply begs the question by assuming that the life of someone without a disability will de facto be a happier life than someone with a disability when this simply cannot always be the case. In fact numerous studies have observed that those living with a disability are as happy or happier than their counterparts with no disability.

How can the person intending to replace the disabled fetus know that their next attempt at conceiving will actually bring about a healthy fetus and not another disabled fetus? If this were the case the the suffering from a utilitarian perspective is immediately doubled, the parents must go through another abortion, knowing they are responsible for another death. Why must the disabled fetus be replaced with another one, why not a dog? Providing they were well looked after and not disabled? As long as the act brings about happier consequences then all is good and well.


4. The replaceability principle is eugenic, it supports and helps propagate the idea that humans must meet arbitrary standards of normalcy before they can be welcomed into the world. If you cannot see how this is eugenic, you don't understand eugenics.


5. The eugenic basis of the replaceability principle helps to subvert the maternal-child relationship into one which is conditional and tentative. Rather than accepting ones offspring for who they are, they may only be permitted to live should they meet certain requirements and not use more than their fair share of societies resources.

Originally posted at Mind the Evangelical.

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