, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 1-57
Date: 17 May 2008

What Is The Wrong Of Wrongful Disability? From Chance To Choice To Harms To Persons

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Abstract

The issue of wrongful disability arises when parents face the choice whether to produce a child whose life will be unavoidably flawed by a serious disease or disorder (Down syndrome, for example, or Huntington’s disease) yet clearly worth living. The authors of From Chance to Choice claim, with certain restrictions, that the choice to produce such a child is morally wrong. They then argue that an intuitive moral approach––a “person-affecting” approach that pins wrongdoing to the harming of some existing or future person––cannot account for that wrong since the choice to produce such a child cannot, under the logic of the nonidentity problem, harm that child. The authors propose that we supplement the person-affecting approach with an “impersonal” principle that takes the form of their well-known principle N. In this paper, I argue that the authors are mistaken to suppose that a plausibly articulated person-affecting approach cannot account for the wrong of wrongful disability. We can retain an intuitive, comparative, “worse for” account of harm and still identify serious harms imposed by the choice of wrongful disability. In particular, I argue that harm, both to the impaired child and to others, comes not in the form of that procreative choice’s procreative effect but rather in the form of its many distributive effects. I also argue that the rare, residual case in which a person-affecting approach would approve of the choice of wrongful disability does not function as a counterexample to that approach. As a separate matter, I address legal claims for wrongful disability, which are closely akin to claims for wrongful life. The legal claim is brought by the impaired child, not against the parents, but rather against health care providers whose negligent failure to diagnose or inform parents of an increased risk of a genetic or congenital impairment results in the birth of the impaired child. The authors’ treatment of the moral wrong that is done as impersonal in nature suggests that courts are correct to dismiss any such claim. Once we identify harm, however, the person-affecting approach can identify a clear foundation in the law for the wrongful disability claim.