Respecting the Dignity of Children with Disabilities in Clinical Practice

HEC Forum 29 (3):257-276 (2017)


Prevailing philosophies about parental and other caregiver responsibilities toward children tend to be protectionist, grounded in informed benevolence in a way that countenances rather than circumvents intrusive paternalism. And among the kinds of children an adult might be called upon to parent or otherwise care for, children with disabilities figure among those for whom the strongest and snuggest shielding is supposed be deployed. In this article, we examine whether this equation of securing well-being with sheltering by protective parents and other care-givers should unreflectively be adopted for disabled children. We also consider why healthcare providers might reasonably be reluctant to yield to this principle, even if parents instinctively suppose that protectionism is the parenting policy that best serves their disabled child’s interest. We contend that caregivers owe children with disabilities at least as much, and possibly more, respect for self-governance than other children need. In spite of disabled children’s vulnerability and even in view of it, we argue that they should be accorded not only welfare rights to well-being but at least a modified version of liberty rights as well. Healthcare providers are especially favorably positioned to facilitate the latter response. The main components of respectful caregiving can come into conflict with one another, but we present some priorities that advise against adopting a protectionist account of parenting rights, or at least against accepting protectionist views that focus parenting narrowly on shaping ideas about the child’s welfare. In sum, caring for a disabled child, we argue, involves more than creating conditions that will afford her contentment and comfort over the course of life.

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Adam Cureton
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Citations of this work

Introduction: Childhood and Disability.Erica Salter - 2017 - HEC Forum 29 (3):191-196.

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