Prevention of Disability on Grounds of Suffering
Edwards, S. D.
Journal of Medical Ethics 2001 December; 27(6): 380-382
This paper examines one particular justification for the screening and termination of embryos/fetuses which possess genetic features known to cause disability. The particular case is that put forward in several places by John Harris. He argues that the obligation to prevent needless suffering justifies the prevention of the births of disabled neonates. The paper begins by rehearsing Harris's case. Then, drawing upon claims advanced in a recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, it is subjected to critical scrutiny, focusing on Harris's "suffering claim" (the claim that a life with disability inevitably involves suffering on a significant scale).(1) It is argued that the suffering claim must be false if understood as an empirical claim. And, even if understood as a conceptual truth, it mistakenly assimilates the concepts of harm and suffering. Finally, again focusing on Harris's recent work in this area, his characterisation of disability as a "harmed condition" is shown not to apply in the case of at least some moderate forms of intellectual disability.
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