Bio-ethicist Sparks Furor
by Suggesting Abortions of Disabled
By Robert B. Bluey
November 25, 2002
Disability advocates and pro-life groups are comparing the process
of genetic selection to Nazi eugenics after a scholar from the
National Institutes of Health said America would benefit from
aborting the blind and disabled.
In a speech earlier this
month at the University of Rhode Island, biomedical ethicist Dan W.
Brock said his views are not discriminatory, and he said any
decision must be left to parents, without government
Brock told CNSNews.com that his beliefs
are his own and do not represent those of the National Institutes of
Health or the federal government. He also said it is not the first
time he has faced criticism for his views.
The speech was
meant, in part, to counter that criticism and offer a defense for
genetic testing, which Brock said is not like the eugenics practiced
by the Nazis. German dictator Adolf Hitler used eugenics, killing
disabled individuals and then Jews, with the goal of creating a
But two pro-life groups said Brock's theory
could have a detrimental impact on future generations.
a hidden agenda that they want to rid our country of people who may
cause us to care for them and protect them and may even cost some
money," said Tom Lothamer, interim director of Baptists for Life.
"If we have that kind of a culture of death, then I believe our
country is doomed. If we can do away with the disabled, then who's
Wendy Wright, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for
America, echoed those sentiments. She said Brock's theories
undermine the field of bioethics and lead society down a dangerous
"It's particularly dangerous when you target people
because of a disability," Wright said. "As we've seen throughout
history, it's too easy for people who don't have a moral compass to
fall into that way of thinking. Once people start down that slope,
that inevitably expands to other classes of people."
said this is not the first time he has been criticized by those in
the disability and pro-life communities. As for the argument that he
is promoting eugenics, "One thing doesn't always lead to every other
thing," he said.
"One can distinguish between using this
testing, either pre-conception or post-conception, to prevent the
birth of children with very serious disabling diseases from any
implications of how we should treat people who are born and live
with those diseases," Brock said.
Other bioethics specialists
have also challenged his views, including Adrienne Asch, a professor
at Wellesley College, who said Brock has failed to understand how
disabled individuals cope with their disabilities.
instance, said blind individuals cannot enjoy the paintings at an
art gallery and people with cognitive disabilities are unable to
perform basic daily functions. For those reasons, he said, parents
should give genetic testing some thought.
"Even after we've
made all the accommodations of justice and equality of opportunity,
there would still be some residual disadvantage from being seriously
cognitively disabled or being blind," Brock said. "It's a judgment
not about the person; it's a judgment about the condition and a
judgment that it would be better if the children who are born don't
have that condition."
Asch said blind individuals might not
be able to see two-dimensional art, but that does not mean they
cannot appreciate other things in life.
"Not every human
being can do everything," Asch said, citing the athleticism of a
basketball player or the knowledge of a mathematician. "Everybody
has things they are able to experience and things they are
For Penny Reeder, who is blind, Brock's theories are
hurtful. She said if genetic testing becomes prominent, parents
would be faced with difficult ethical decisions.
"How dare he
say that he's not denigrating people with disabilities when he's
advocating aborting a pregnancy of a potential person with a
disability. It's just amazing to me," said Reeder, who cited her job
as a magazine editor as evidence that blind people can
Lothamer said the issue also extends beyond
bioethics into an area where parents must decide if they should play
the role of a higher being. But Brock was quick to counter that
assessment as well.
"Medicine is in the business of messing
with nature and God's will," he said. "Medicine tries to intervene
in what would otherwise happen by natural processes or God's will.
We normally think that if we can prevent serious suffering, then
artificial interventions are justified."
Even Asch conceded
that some parents would probably adopt Brock's way of thinking, but
said she hopes those parents also consider the positive impact
disabled individuals can have on society.
"I think people
should get to make the decisions they want to make," Asch said. "I
think they need to have better information about life with
disability before they make those decisions, but if they ultimately
make those decisions, then they make them."
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