Friday, October 21, 2005


Ampersand from Alas wrote seven very good posts in response to an anti-abortion essay by a woman with an down's syndrome child.

I guess I should start with my answer to the question raised in her essay, becuase I think it's a relatively simple one: I believe that if you want to stop women aborting down's syndrome babies, then you do that by making it easier to raise down's syndrom children. I support every woman's right to terminate any pregnancy for any reason, even if I don't agree with the reasons.

Although I don't disagree with a woman terminating a down's syndrome pregnancy, because whether or not she can raise a down's syndrome baby in her current circumstances is one only she can make.

But what interests me is the issues Ampersand raises about disability in posts 4, 5, and 6 in response to Patricia Bauer's argument that terminating pregnancies because the baby would have had down's syndrome devalues the life of down's syndrome children. Ampersand takes this question wider and explores the idea that preventing, or curing disabilities devalues those who have them.

I want to make it clear straight up that I don't think it does. I don't think Health & Safety legislation intended to stop accidents devalue the lives who have had their legs squashed and are now in wheelchairs. I don't think banning Thalilomide devalues the lives of those who were born without limbs. I don't think having your hips replaces devalues the lives of those with arthritis who haven't had their hips replaced. But I do believe that it raises some interesting questions.

Ampersand ends up asking:

The truth is, I think disabilities disable people. Is that bigoted of me?

I don't think it's bigoted, but I do think it's missing some important points.

The first is that disabilities come in many, many varities, and what's true for one sort of disability (or one person with one sort of disability), may not be true for another. Losing a sense is different from losing a limb, which is different from having your brain develop differently, which is different from suffering from a chronic degenerative disease, which is different from suffering from a mental illness. These are generally all lumped together as disabilities, but they are different and should be treated as such. In fact, if you believe that people have a right to their own bodies then they must be treated as such.

Secondly, that disability is not just a physical condition, it's the interaction between a physical condition and the society that we live in.

Now that sounds like wishy-washy touchy feely crap, even to me, so I'll try to explain what I mean. My best friend has had arthritis since she was 5. By the time I met her many of her joints were fused, and while she could walk on crutches, stairs were really difficult. Now this was a pain, because Wellington is not the flattest of cities. We'd fine that a whole lot of places that we wanted to go, from my house, to classes at school (well maybe want is the wrong word), to the movie theatre, to bars, were up a whole lot of stairs, and some of them (I'm looking at you, Embassy movie theatre) didn't have non-stair access. So it wasn't just arthritis that was making her life hard, it was the fact that shitty access was acceptable (oh and don't even get me started on the lack of disabled car parks in Wellington). If you look at it the other way, technology can seriously lessen someone's 'disability'. For example, when my friend got her car, the way she could interact with the world was completely transformed.

I think this analysis can be expanded outwards, a lot of the problems of so-called disabilities could actually solved now with a will and a different economic system. The fact that care for people with developmental differences fall so heavily on the family, that school and work are designed for 'normal' people, or even just that mass-produced products don't neccessarily suit everyone, all these could change, and would lead to people being less disabled.

I was talking about this issue with my friend with arthritis after she had gone to a seminar by some philosophy graduate student who argued that: if the technology became available, everybody would have a moral duty to genetically modify their children to ensure they had no disabilities (incidentally there's a very good season 2 X-files episode about this very topic, it's called Humbug and it was written by Darin Morgan - go watch it).

We quickly concluded that people shouldn't be allowed to write theses on anything, but particularly philosophy, till they have some grasp on the real world. The world is messy and complicated, but that's what makes it worth fighting for.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:22 pm

    People shouldn't write 'thesises' if they don't have a grasp on the real world, eh? I thought my non-grasp on the real world is what gave me the creative licence to write one.

    Also, I disagree with nearly everything you say (apart from the stuff about X-Files - Darin Morgan is cool).