What is meant by ‘disability’ is subject for considerable debate, as little agreement exists on how the concept ought to be defined. Moral intuitions about disability in ‘ableist’ societies suggest that having a disability is something undesirable, as being disabled significantly reduces the individual’s quality of life* and social opportunities (Note: I am not aware, at this time, of experimental research which has explored the moral intuitions regarding disability. Perhaps an interesting area of exploration for the X-Phi folk…).
Progress in reproductive genetic biotechnology, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has made it possible for prospective parents to select against particular genetic traits causing disability or disease in the offspring. For example, a parent who is a carrier of dominant mutations on HTT – the Huntington’s gene – and does not want to pass down an affected gene to his or her progeny can use PGD in tandem with other approaches such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to increase the likelihood that unaffected embryos are the only embryos implanted back into the woman’s uterus. Potential use of the biotechnology to intentionally select against ‘negative’ traits (such as future disability) or select for ‘positive’ non-medical traits (e.g., gender, eye or hair colour, height, intelligence), has caused outcry from slippery-slope skeptics concerning fears over “designer babies” and “the new eugenics.” Although these arguments are worthy of reflection and consideration, I won’t attend to them in this post.