Cheap listening?--Reflections on the concept of wrongful disability

Bioethics. 2006 Apr;20(2):55-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2006.00477.x.


This paper investigates the concept of wrongful disability. That concept suggests that parents are morally obligated to prevent the genetic transmission of certain conditions and so, if they do not, any resulting disability is 'wrongful'. In their book From Chance to Choice, Buchanan, Brock, Daniels and Wikler defend the concept of wrongful disability using the principle of avoidability via substitution. That principle is scrutinised here. It is argued that the idea of avoidability via substitution is both conceptually problematic and rather insensitive. Instead, it is suggested that the question of whether or not bringing a particular disability about is wrongful does not simply hinge on whether or not substitution takes place. Rather, it involves an evaluation of parental aspirations and responsibilities. It is argued that the desire need not be responsible for creating challenges for others that lie outside what is perceived to be an acceptable range provides a justification for termination of pregnancy on the grounds of projected disability that neither commits one to wrongful life claim, nor requires that one substitute a non-disabled child instead. The ramifications of such an approach are explored. The paper concludes by suggesting that the question of what is considered to be an acceptable range of human capability is an increasingly important one. It is argued that, when addressing that question, we should be acutely aware of the social context that may go some way to define what we consider to be an acceptable range.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Eugenic / ethics*
  • Disabled Persons
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Female
  • Genetic Engineering / ethics
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations
  • Parents
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / ethics
  • Public Policy
  • Quality of Life
  • Reproduction / ethics*
  • Wrongful Life / ethics*