Selecting Against Disability: The Liberal Eugenic Challenge and the Argument from Cognitive Diversity

Journal of Applied Philosophy 35 (2):319-340 (2018)
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Selection against embryos that are predisposed to develop disabilities is one of the less controversial uses of embryo selection technologies. Many bio-conservatives argue that while the use of ESTs to select for non-disease-related traits, such as height and eye-colour, should be banned, their use to avoid disease and disability should be permitted. Nevertheless, there remains significant opposition, particularly from the disability rights movement, to the use of ESTs to select against disability. In this article we examine whether and why the state could be justified in restricting the use of ESTs to select against disability. We first outline the challenge posed by proponents of ‘liberal eugenics’. Liberal eugenicists challenge those who defend restrictions on the use of ESTs to show why the use of these technologies would create a harm of the type and magnitude required to justify coercive measures. We argue that this challenge could be met by adverting to the risk of harms to future persons that would result from a loss of certain forms of cognitive diversity. We suggest that this risk establishes a pro tanto case for restricting selection against some disabilities, including dyslexia and Asperger's syndrome.
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