Sterilizing the Mildly Mentally Retarded without Their Consent

The Philosophical Arguments
  • Robert Neville
Part of the The Hastings Center Series in Ethics book series (HCSE)


Under certain specific circumstances it is morally permissible to sterilize some mildly mentally retarded people without their consent. At the outset of my argument I want to acknowledge that there is a grave difficulty, conceptually and empirically, in identifying which individuals belong to the relevant class of the mentally retarded. If that class is either conceptually so vague or empirically so confused that individuals who do not belong in it are inadvertently placed there, then it would be ethically impermissible to subject the class to involuntary sterilization. But let me put that difficulty aside until the end, and proceed with the argument as if we knew with acceptable exactness who the mildly mentally retarded are and which of them meet the specified requirements for sterilization.


Sexual Activity Moral Responsibility Responsible Behavior Philosophical Argument Moral Community 
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Copyright information

© The Hastings Center 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Neville
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Center for Religious StudiesState University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookUSA

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