Saturday, September 20, 2008

Glover's "Disability and Genetic Choice"

Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Disability and Genetic Choice” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 4-36.

Glover argues that, other things being equal, it is good if the incidence of disabilities is reduced by parental choices to opt for potentially more flourishing children. His argument rests upon the premise that disability impairs the capacity for human flourishing. He does acknowledge the potential cost of the expressivist argument, which claims that by limiting the birth of individuals with disability we are actually disrespecting and diminishing the value of those living with disability. He will attempt to show that perspective and intent are necessary to minimize harm in this respect.

He begins by treating the effects of the medical and components of disability. If society minimizes the stigma or functionality of disability, then this minimizes the gap between ‘normal’ and disability. Genetics and the perspective of society may blur the line between healthy and unhealthy but Glover argues that we should give up on the debate between defining disability as a functional limitation and that of social context because it is indeed both. The human flourishing model that he proposes may change the nature of disability on the individual level because of the life choices that individual makes and how that influences the notion of flourishing. I argue, however, that disability may impoverish on an unconscious level the choices one can make. Glover does address this later but it remains messy when addressing the choices of those individuals living today that refute the idea that their choices were limited. He does stick with the idea that “… disability involves a functional limitation, which (either on its own or – more usually- in combination with social disadvantage) impairs the capacity for human flourishing.” (p. 9). Refer back to p. 12 for a brief discussion of normality, which is relevant for our project. He agrees that it is a messy concept but that it is necessary to stick with a socially constructed and context dependent concept of normality that includes elements of the numerical and the normative (p. 13).

It seems a large point of Glover’s concept of flourish depends on the choices available to the individual but how does this affect a fetus or newborn, which cannot choose those attribute that define ‘flourish’. He tries to distinguish between externally and internally compensated disability. This may be relevant to our project if we incorporate some relativistic qualifiers. In other words, the idea that deafness is not a disability is only relative to those who are deaf so intervention/enhancement to a fetus or newborn is not a slight to those that are deaf because the fetus is in a different relativistic position. He appeals to Mill’s notion of higher and lower pleasures, which we want to draw out in our appeal to enhancement should we go in that direction. He argues against John Harris over the distinction between harming and wronging a child. Glover argues that it may be wrong to limit flourishing but that it does not harm the child to be born with certain disabilities. Harris argues that is harm to have a child that has disability. We will have to dive deeper into Harris’ argument. Does he mean just those disabilities that we can detect and ‘treat’?

He comments on common social misconceptions of disability as follows:
1. “… people with disabilities must have a severely reduced quality of life or even a life barely worth living.”
2. “There is a tendency to think of disability as a person’s main feature.”
3. “… there is a tendency to shy away from people with disability.”
Might this not be exacerbated if enhancement becomes commonplace? Won’t there be a social push to make biological functioning ‘perfect’? He believes that there is a positive and ugly side to the expressivist perspective but claims that we can minimize the ugly side by:
1. Focus on defeating disease/disability not because we do not respect individuals with that disease/disability but for what it does to individuals.
2. Parents should want to have a child without disability because disability reduces the chance of flourishing.
He concludes by claiming that genetic choice to eliminate disability is not a form of eugenics and even that some forms of enhancement may be justified because of the addition to chances of future flourishing. The potential objection to his argument will be defining what flourish actually means. I think we should also explore how diversity helps shape the idea of human nature, i.e., a more homogeneous population.

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