Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design (Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics)
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Progress in genetic and reproductive technology now offers us the possibility of choosing what kinds of children we do and don't have. Should we welcome this power, or should we fear its implications? There is no ethical question more urgent than this: we may be at a turning-point in the history of humanity. The renowned moral philosopher and best-selling author Jonathan Glover shows us how we might try to answer this question, and other provoking and disturbing questions to which it leads.
Surely parents owe it to their children to give them the best life they can? Increasingly we are able to reduce the number of babies born with disabilities and disorders. But there is a powerful new challenge to conventional thinking about the desirability of doing so: this comes from the voices of those who have these conditions. They call into question the very definition of disability. How do we justify trying to avoid bringing people like them into being?
In 2002 a deaf couple used sperm donated by a friend with hereditary deafness to have a deaf baby: they took the view that deafness is not a disability, but a difference. Starting with the issues raised by this case, Jonathan Glover examines the emotive idea of "eugenics", and the ethics of attempting to enhance people, for non-medical reasons, by means of genetic choices. Should parents be free, not only to have children free from disabilities, but to choose, for instance, the colour of their eyes or hair? This is no longer a distant prospect, but an existing power which we cannot wish away. What impact will such interventions have, both on the individuals concerned and on society as a whole?
Should we try to make general improvements to the genetic make-up of human beings? Is there a central core of human nature with which we must not interfere?
This beautifully clear book is written for anyone who cares about the rights and wrongs of parents' choices for their children, anyone who is concerned about our human future. Glover handles these uncomfortable questions in a controversial but always humane and sympathetic manner.
hardly be more different from those of the Nazis. There is no mention of the race or the gene pool. Instead of the subordination of the individual to the social Darwinist struggle for survival, there is compassion for the potential child. Instead of coercion by the state, there is respect for parental choice. And, perhaps most important of all, these parental choices are compatible with an attitude of equality of respect for everyone. Choosing to have a child without certain disabilities need not
signal that we do not have the ugly attitudes to disability. It is important to show that what we care about is our children’s ﬂourishing: that this, and not shrinking from certain kinds of people, or some horrible project of cleansing the world of them, is what motivates us. To think that a particular disability makes someone’s life less good is not one of the ugly attitudes. It does not mean that the person who has it is of any less value, or is less deserving of respect, than anyone else.
the world a better place. Those who want to defend the medical boundary need to say what is special about medical obstacles to ﬂourishing. What makes them the only candidates for elimination by genetic choices? One defence of the medical boundary makes it a purely conventional one. Perhaps a ‘designer-baby’ world is so bad that we must seize on any barrier that may stop us drifting into it. To assess this, we have to look at whether such a world is worse than ours, and at whether defending the
genetic engineering had been available in Victorian times, people might have designed their children to be patriotic and pious. If patriotism does not hold the place it once did, this is partly because of our experience of what the patriotic outlook can lead to, together with the value we place on avoiding the killing and misery of war. We can abandon or modify some values and we can ﬁnd ourselves acquiring new ones. But it is important that this happens because of the pull of other values. There
another reviewer for Oxford University Press for some very helpful comments on the ﬁrst draft of the book. I owe thanks to Richard Hull, whose graduate thesis on disability issues ﬁrst made me realize what deep philosophical questions the concept of disability raises. Michael Mason, a week before he died, gave me permission to quote from his powerful discussion of things he had learnt from his own experience of a stroke. Since we were at school together half a century ago, I have been stimulated