Disability-selective abortion: denying human rights to make a “perfect world”?
This is with reference to the article on the impact of UNCRPD on the status of persons with disabilities by Smitha Nizar (1). I appreciate the author’s take on the controversial issue of disability-selective abortions. The article discusses the ethical dilemmas of using medical technologies to terminate foetuses diagnosed with disabilities. It also highlights the paradigm shift from the perspective of looking at people with disability as needing charity and welfare to one which recognises their rights and empowerment.
The central argument of the article revolves around the “sanctity of human life” without discrimination. Healthcare professionals are ethically bound to use healthcare interventions to promote the health of human beings equally. The author builds on this idea and asks whether it is justified to sanction the use of advanced medical technologies to deny persons with disability the right to life with dignity and hence devalue their birth.
Current policy permits disability-selective abortion if prenatal genetic testing identifies a foetus with disability. However, the author points out that genetic test are not fool proof. The increasing acceptance of disability-selective abortions highlights the fact that social attitudes have not changed much; we consider disability as undesirable, and the lives of people with disability as not worth living.
The author also points out that when a disabled child is born because prenatal testing for disability was not done – or the doctor has not informed the parents of the test results so that they can make an informed choice – the parents or the child may claim damages for “wrongful life” or “wrongful birth”. This would disregard the dignity of the disabled child. The claim for “wrongful life” will expect the infant plaintiff to say: “not that he/she should have been born without defects but that he/she should not have been born at all.”(2). The issue can become even more complicated: What if the foetus was conceived through donor eggs, or the foetal disability followed the pregnant woman’s exposure to nuclear contamination, or a natural disaster? In such scenarios whom will the law hold responsible?
The author rightly states that we must view disability-selective abortion in the light of the “right to life of the foetus” as well as the duty to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability, and not only from the perspective of women’s right to reproductive choice. We must strengthen our health policies and make them more inclusive towards people with disabilities, rather than eliminating those considered “imperfect” or “abnormal”. We must invest in research into methods to reduce further disability, and to maximise the potential of persons with disability, rather than preventing their birth.
Kiran Gupta, M Sc in Disaster Management, Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management Tata Institute of Social Sciences, VN Purav Marg, Deonar,Mumbai 400 088 INDIA e-mail: email@example.com
- Nizar S. Impact of UNCRPD on the status of persons with disabilities. Ind J Med Ethics. 2011Oct-Dec;8(4):223-9.
- Burns TA. When life is an injury: an economic approach to wrongful life lawsuits. Duke Law J. 2003 Feb;52(4):807-39.