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Bortolotti, Lisa, John Harris. Disability, Enhancement, and the Harm-Benefit Continuum
2006, In John R. Spencer & Antje Du Bois-Pedain (eds.), Freedom and Responsibility in Reproductive Choice. Hart Publishers.
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Added by: Chris Howard
Abstract: Suppose that you are soon to be a parent and you learn that there are some simple measures that you can take to make sure that your child will be healthy. In particular, suppose that by following the doctor’s advice, you can prevent your child from having a disability, you can make your child immune from a number of dangerous diseases and you can even enhance its future intelligence. All that is required for this to happen is that you (or your partner) comply with lifestyle and dietary requirements. Do you and your partner have any moral reasons (or moral obligations) to follow the doctor’s advice? Would it make a difference if, instead of following some simple dietary requirements, you consented to genetic engineering to make sure that your child was free from disabilities, healthy and with above average intelligence? In this paper we develop a framework for dealing with these questions and we suggest some directions the answers might take.

Comment: This paper is an especially good inclusion in any bioethics course that has units on both disability and enhancement, covering issues at the intersection of these topics - indeed, it could be used quite effectively as a "transition paper", bridging a unit on the former topic with a unit on the latter. The piece pairs particularly well with Michael Sandel's, "The Case Against Perfection", and should be suitably accessible to all students, requiring very little philosophical background.

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Brand, Peg Zeglin. Beauty as Pride: A Function of Agency’
2011, APA Newsletter 10(2): 5-9.
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Added by: Hans Maes
Abstract: This is basically a paper about artistic evaluation and how multiple interpretations can give rise to inconsistent and conflicting meanings. Images like Joel-Peter Witkin's First Casting for Milo (2004) challenge the viewer to look closely, understand the formal properties at work, and then extract a meaning that ultimately asks, Is the model exploited or empowered? Is Karen Duffy, pictured here, vulnerable and "enfreaked" or is she potentially subversive, transgressive, and perhaps self-empowered? I will offer an argument in agreement with artist/author/ performer Ann Millett-Gallant that favors the latter interpretation, but will augment and complicate the issue by also introducing a pointed question or two taken from a recent analysis by Cynthia Freeland on objectification. I judge the works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin to be representations of disabled persons who are empowered through agency and pride, but I also worry about the risk of multiple, conflicting interpretations on the part of viewers who do not, or cannot, entertain such enlightened readings. Like second wave feminist views about pornography that depicted women in demeaning ways, or feminist critiques of Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party , Witkin's photos can be judged as potentially offensive. But they are also objects of beauty - both in terms of aesthetic properties (they are magnificent studies in black and white, shadows, the human body, with many classical references) and because of the feeling of beauty and pride felt by the posers, who become performers of their own beauty and pride. I argue that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins. But I'm not sure that everyone will agree.

Comment: Questions the ideal standard of beauty portrayed throughout the history of art, particularly in form of the female nude, and examines works of art that defiantly challenge that ideal. Argues that in certain representations of disabled persons the model is empowered and not exploited and that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins.

Artworks to use with this text:

Joel-Peter Witkin, First Casting for Milo (2004)

Portrait of Irish artist Karen Duffy engaged in a silent performance of 'disarming' Venus. In her own words, she is aiming to 'liberate herself from histories of oppressive representations of women and disabled women in particular.'

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Kittay, Eva Feder. Forever Small: The Strange Case of Ashley X
2011, Hypatia, 26 (3): 610-631.
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Added by: Rochelle DuFord
Abstract: I explore the ethics of altering the body of a child with severe cognitive disabilities in such a way that keeps the child 'forever small.' The parents of Ashley, a girl of six with severe cognitive and developmental disabilities, in collaboration with her physicians and the Hospital Ethics Committee, chose to administer growth hormones that would inhibit her growth. They also decided to remove her uterus and breast buds, assuring that she would not go through the discomfort of menstruation and would not grow breasts. In this way she would stay 'forever small' and be able to be carried and handled by family members. They claimed that doing this would ensure that she would be able to be part of the family and of family activities and to have familial care. But the procedure has raised thorny ethical questions. I wish to explore these questions philosophically by bringing to bear my own experiences as a mother of a grown daughter with severe cognitive impairments.

Comment: This reading both introduces the controversial case of Ashley X and also provides a set of ethical considerations concerning altering the bodies of persons with severe cognitive disabilities. It would serve as an excellent introduction to a unit on disability, a unit on the ethics of care, or concerning the limits of parental paternalism.

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Mich Ciurria. An Intersectional Feminist Theory of Moral Responsibility
2019, Routledge
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Anonymous
Publisher’s Note: This book develops an intersectional feminist approach to moral responsibility. It accomplisheses four main goals. First, it outlines a concise list of the main principles of intersectional feminism. Second, it uses these principles to critique prevailing philosophical theories of moral responsibility. Third, it offers an account of moral responsibility that is compatible with the ethos of intersectional feminism. And fourth, it uses intersectional feminist principles to critique culturally normative responsibility practices. This is the first book to provide an explicitly intersectional feminist approach to moral responsibility. After identifying the five principles central to intersectional feminism, the author demonstrates how influential theories of responsibility are incompatible with these principles. She argues that a normatively adequate theory of blame should not be preoccupied with the agency or traits of wrongdoers; it should instead underscore, and seek to ameliorate, oppression and adversity as experienced by the marginalized. Apt blame and praise, according to her intersectional feminist account, is both communicative and functionalist. The book concludes with an extensive discussion of culturally embedded responsibility practices, including asymmetrically structured conversations and gender- and racially biased social spaces. An Intersectional Feminist Approach to Moral Responsibility presents a sophisticated and original philosophical account of moral responsibility. It will be of interest to philosophers working at the crossroads of moral responsibility, feminist philosophy, critical race theory, queer theory, critical disability studies, and intersectionality theory.

Comment: This book offers a critique of mainstream theories of moral responsibility and defends an intersectional feminist alternative that holds people responsible for their contributions, whether intentional or not, to intersecting systems of oppression.

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Tremain, Shelley. Reproductive freedom, self-regulation, and the government of impairment in utero
2006, Hypatia 21(1): 35-53.
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Added by: Simon Fokt
Abstract: This article critically examines the constitution of impairment in prenatal testing and screening practices and various discourses that surround these technologies. While technologies to test and screen (for impairment) prenatally are claimed to enhance women's capacity to be self-determining, make informed reproductive choices, and, in effect, wrest control of their bodies from a patriarchal medical establishment, I contend that this emerging relation between pregnant women and reproductive technologies is a new strategy of a form of power that began to emerge in the late eighteenth century. Indeed, my argument is that the constitution of prenatal impairment, by and through these practices and procedures, is a widening form of modern government that increasingly limits the field of possible conduct in response to pregnancy. Hence, the government of impairment in utero is inextricably intertwined with the government of the maternal body.

Comment: Most useful in teaching on ethical issues at the beginning of life. It can be also used in teaching on the ethics of autonomy, freedom of choice, and feminism in general.

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Wiesler, Christine. Epistemic Oppression and Ableism in Bioethics
2020, Hypatia. 35: 714–732.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner
Abstract: Disabled people face obstacles to participation in epistemic communities that would be beneficial for making sense of our experiences and are susceptible to epistemic oppression. Knowledge and skills grounded in disabled people's experiences are treated as unintelligible within an ableist hermeneutic, specifically, the dominant conception of disability as lack. My discussion will focus on a few types of epistemic oppression—willful hermeneutical ignorance, epistemic exploitation, and epistemic imperialism—as they manifest in some bioethicists’ claims about and interactions with disabled people. One of the problems with the epistemic phenomena with which I am concerned is that they direct our skepticism regarding claims and justifications in the wrong direction. When we ought to be asking dominantly situated epistemic agents to justify their knowledge claims, our attention is instead directed toward skepticism regarding the accounts of marginally situated agents who are actually in a better position to know. I conclude by discussing disabled knowers’ responses to epistemic oppression, including articulating the epistemic harm they have undergone as well as ways of creating resistant ways of knowing.

Comment: Wieseler draws on resources developed by feminists and disability theorists to critique the practice of philosophical bioethics (bioethics done by philosophers). In particular, she argues that philosophical bioethics involves and perpetuates ableism. Among its many problems, this ableism is epistemically fraught. It interferes with disabled people’s ability to participate in various kinds of knowledge production. Wieseler uses a lot of technical terms—like epistemic exploitation, epistemic imperialism, and willful hermeneutical ignorance—but she explains everything clearly and the payoff is worthwhile. Wieseler uses these concepts to develop a powerful and thought-provoking critique of bioethical practice with respect to disability. The concepts are also useful in broader contexts, as we’ll see in section 3.

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