|from the New York Times, 10/16/11|
The clips make the whole issue of selective procreation very uncomfortable--but maybe in a useful way. Who would want to say that any real, live person on screen has a life "not worth living," or has such dim prospects that their existence makes the world a worse place (to use an expression from Jonathan Glover's book Choosing Children). Just watching these clips makes you feel the force of the expressivist objection to selective reproduction, the objection that says selectiveness denigrates those who actually have the conditions that selective people are trying to avoid.
But then, how does it denigrate them? I avoid car accidents that might lead me or my family members to wind up with missing limbs, or blinded, or paralyzed. Nobody would think it was an insult to people in these conditions to try to prevent more people from being in the same condition. If I showed a video of a quadruple amputee, so students could see what the condition is like, and then we talked about the ethics of war, nobody would take this to be insulting to amputees. We can both want to avoid more people having a condition, and accept, respect, and accommodate people with the condition.
The question, though, is whether those two attitudes are compatible, if the means of avoidance is not conceiving a child to begin with, or disposing of an embryo, or having an abortion. They are clearly in tension, but not (I suspect) really incompatible. A moving editorial in today's New York Times makes that clear. Emily Rapp writes movingly about her child Ronan, who has Tay Sachs disease (picture, above). She treasures the child, who is expected to die of the condition by the age of three. But she writes openly of having had two prenatal tests for Tay Sachs (false negatives, both times). You can want to prevent a certain kind of child from being born, but that doesn't at all mean rejecting or denigrating the child once he or she is born. This may be odd and hard to fathom, but it's true.