I have returned from my bioethical wanderings which took me to Montreal to submit my master’s thesis – high five, anyone? — and St. John’s NFL for the Canadian Bioethics Society’s national conference. The Canadian bioethics community offers an interesting case-study in split personality, being profoundly committed to “women’s right to choose” while being profoundly horrified by its collateral damage, namely the cheapening human life, especially old, sick or disabled life. Whether or not they are able to see the link is anyone’s guess: I sat on numerous presentations decrying the effects of prenatal genetic screening and diagnosis on human diversity but nowhere did I hear a semblance of battle cry to make it stop. In cases such as these, it is more appropriate to use “pro-choice” than “pro-abortion” to describe the position of many speakers present at the conference: uneasy as they are with the termination of genetically impaired embryos, they would never question a woman’s choice to do so. From this point of view, abortion is a by-product of choice: if you want one, you will have to deal with the other.
I find this type of ethical reasoning both interesting and distressing. Interesting and distressing because if ethics concerns itself with what we should do, the hegemony of choice turns sound ethical reasoning on its head by stating first what we should do (don’t question choice) and backpedaling itself from its conclusion into an ethical position. It makes for somewhat cowardly ethics because paths of ethical reasoning that could lead to question the hegemony of choice – especially reproductive choice — are either eliminated or carefully circumvented. Speaking from both sides of one’s mouth will only get you so far in eliminating injustice: by refusing to take a clear stance on the injustice of genetic terminations – including sex-based terminations – the Canadian bioethics community is effectively condoning the elimination of diversity from the Canadian demographic landscape.
So what, you ask? The ramifications of condoning genetic terminations are not only seen in dwindling diversity. By refusing to rein in freedom of choice in matters of genetic terminations, we cause the erosion of the range of choices available to the rest of society: as embryos with trisomy 21 – to name this easy target – are less and less likely to make it to full term, the services and support available to parents who choose to bear and raise their children with Down syndrome are reduced to reflect the statistically inexistent demand. And I’m not even getting into the consequences of changing attitudes toward disability which can also erode the range of choices available to those who walk to a different drum. Illegitimate, unethical choices are rotten apples. Failing to recognize it only exposes the whole basket.by