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TITLE:  Geneticist: Abort the blind and disabled
SOURCE: The Narragansett Times, USA, by Julie Novak
        http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=6115819&BRD=1714&PAG=461&
        dept_id=73829&rfi=8
DATE:   Nov 20, 2002

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Geneticist: Abort the blind and disabled

KINGSTON - Society might be better off if it prevents the birth of blind 
and severely disabled children, said biomedical ethicist Dan W. Brock at 
the University of Rhode Island's tenth Honors Colloquium lecture last 
Tuesday night. By JULIE NOVAK

KINGSTON - Society might be better off if it prevents the birth of blind 
and severely disabled children, said biomedical ethicist Dan W. Brock at 
the University of Rhode Island's tenth Honors Colloquium lecture last 
Tuesday night.

In a world where genetic screening has become not only common, but also 
proficient and covered by health insurance in some cases, new parents may 
be facing more thought-provoking decisions as they prepare for the birth of 
a child. And Brock thinks such decisions should be left to parents, not the 
government, because of their complexity. A supporter of pre-birth screening 
and procedures like abortion to prevent disabled children from being born, 
Brock said his thoughts should not be perceived as a judgment of severely 
disabled people.

"I want to define genetic testing in a strictly reproductive context. It's 
uncontroversial that serious disabilities should be prevented in born 
persons," Brock asserted. "It's considered a misfortune to be born blind or 
with a serious cognitive disability, but if it's a bad thing for a born 
person, then why not prevent these conditions in someone who will be born?"

Brock countered several arguments put forth by disability advocates, who 
fear his theories will label them as second-class citizens, in his lecture 
titled, "Genetic Testing & Selection: A Response to the Disability 
Movement's Critique." Despite their fears that this implies society would 
be better "if they had never been born," Brock said he upholds the "full 
and equal moral status" of disabled people.

He contends the volume of governmental policies that promote equal 
opportunity still do not help a severely disabled person enjoy the same 
quality of life as a person who was born "normal." But that does not mean 
someone who becomes disabled through an accident should not be provided for.

"We should distinguish between preventing people from becoming disabled 
from preventing the existence of disabled people," explained Brock, a 
former professor of philosophy and biomedical ethics at Brown University 
who now works for the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National 
Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Disabled persons will argue 
they experience a high quality of life, but Brock said that this type of 
self-assessment can be misleading because people learn new skills and adapt 
to their environment to cope with their disability.

"They do suffer real disadvantages," he said. "Our notion of how good a 
person's life is is not fully determined by their own subjective self-
assessment." Brock believes genetic screening will eventually lead to fewer 
people with severe disabilities. He acknowledged that eliminating severely 
disabled children might decrease the amount of services and programs 
available for others, a notion disability advocates use to oppose his 
argument.

"But fewer resources would be needed," Brock noted. Brock stated blindness 
and severe cognitive dysfunction are two disabilities he would prevent. But 
the issue is not black and white, he added, and other disabilities that can 
be prevented, like deafness, conjure up controversy as well. Is their 
quality of life severely affected by our society? he asked.

"This is why these choices should be left to individual parents," Brock 
said, adding that most parents, if given a choice, will opt not to have a 
child with disabilities. "Preventing a severe disability is not for the 
sake of the child who will have it. Rather, it is for the sake of less 
suffering and loss of opportunity in the world."



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