8 - The Social Context of Individual Choice  pp. 217-236

The Social Context of Individual Choice

By Tom Shakespeare

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Philosophers and disability activists have concentrated much energy on the moral status of decisions about prenatal testing and selective termination on the grounds of fetal impairment. On the one foot, there is a range of arguments about wrongful birth and the immorality of choosing disability or of restricting the open future of a potential child. On the other foot, there is the expressivist argument about the messages that decisions to terminate pregnancies affected by disability send to disabled people and to the society in which they live. Disabled people have reacted with anger to technologies and programs that seek to avoid the birth of “people like us” or that might have meant that “we would never have been born.”

I am not persuaded by either set of arguments. My suggestion in this chapter is that resolving this interesting philosophical debate is not the priority for political and policy resolution of the selective termination issue. I do not believe that there is a single rational solution to the moral quandry of whether to terminate a pregnancy affected by disability, nor should there be. Every impairment is different, and each can impact on lives to a greater or lesser extent. Equally, every family and every life is different, so it is dangerous to generalize about the experience of impairment. Moreover, there are widely varying views about both disability and abortion within societies as well as between societies.