Disability, identity and the "expressivist objection"

Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (4):418-420 (2004)
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The practice of prenatal screening for disability is sometimes objected to because of the hurt and offence such practices may cause to people currently living with disabilities. This objection is commonly termed “the expressivist objection”. In response to the objection it is standardly claimed that disabilities are analogous to illnesses. And just as it would be implausible to suppose reduction of the incidence of illnesses such as flu sends a negative message to ill people, so it is not plausible to suppose prevention of disability sends a negative message to disabled people. The expressivist objection hinges, however, upon a view of the relationship between disability and self identity which sees disability as part of the identity of the disabled person, in a way in which illnesses such as flu cannot be. This possibility is generally not considered in critiques of the expressivist objection. In this paper, an “identity claim” to the effect that disabilities can be identity constituting is accepted and the force of the expressivist argument is reconsidered in the light of its acceptance. It is concluded that even when such an identity claim is accepted, the expressivist objection is still not morally compelling



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