Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 5, Issue 2–3, pp 169–181 | Cite as

Mind the Gaps: Intersex and (Re-productive) Spaces in Disability Studies and Bioethics

  • M. Morgan HolmesEmail author


With a few notable exceptions disability studies has not taken account of intersexuality, and it is principally through the lenses of feminist and queer-theory oriented ethical discussions but not through ‘straight’ bioethics that modes valuing intersex difference have been proposed. Meanwhile, the medical presupposition that intersex characteristics are inherently disabling to social viability remains the taken-for-granted truth from which clinical practice proceeds. In this paper I argue against bioethical perspectives that justify extensive and invasive pre- and post-natal medical interference to eradicate intersex. I argue instead that to constitute the necessary conditions for the recognition of the intersexed child as a person, a life valid in its own right, clinicians must refrain from aggressive interference. Clinical specialists presuppose that intersexed children will be socially disabled and unrecognizable as persons; frustrated by the general failure of traditional interventions to assign a sex, clinicians are now pursuing prenatal technologies, including selective termination, to erase intersex.


Intersex Disability studies Critical ethics Critical gender studies 



I wish to thank Shelley Tremain for motivating the authorship of the paper, Margaret Toye for comments on drafts at various stages, and Trevor Holmes, Michael O’Rourke and Noreen Giffney for critical input on the penultimate draft. I am also indebted to my two anonymous readers for encouraging changes to strengthen and streamline my argument. Thanks also to Katherine O’Donnell and the Women’s Education Research and Resource Centre at University College Dublin for providing material resources of time and space for me to complete the paper and present a draft version during my time as visiting scholar at the centre. In memory of Max Beck, friend, intersex activist, cancer-care advocate.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology & CAST-MAWilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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