The case of the missing hand; or, gender, disability and bodily norms
Assoc. Prof Catherine Mills (Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University)

September 27, 2013, 7:15pm - 9:15pm
Department of Philosophy, Monash University

Room S110, 1st Floor, Building 11 (Menzies)
55 Wellington Road
Clayton 3800


Karen Green
Monash University


Abstract: The practice of terminating a pregnancy following the diagnosis of a fetal malformation raises questions about notions of bodily normality and the ways these shape ethical decision-making. This is particularly the case with terminations on the basis of ostensibly minor morphological anomalies, such as cleft lip and missing limbs or digits. In this paper, I examine a recent case of selective termination after a morphology ultrasound scan revealed the fetus to be missing a hand (acheiria). Using the work of Georges Canguilhem, I show that a person with acheiria could be considered normal. On the basis of this, I suggest that the ethics of disability termination are not as distinct from those of sex selection as is commonly supposed. To make this point, I also consider the interaction of ideas about disability with ideas about gender. I show that this case reveals a kind of 'undecidability' in the significance of fetal sex and disability in the ethics of selective termination.

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