The case of the missing hand: gender, disability and body norms in selective termination
A/Prof Catherine Mills (Monash University)

March 23, 2016, 6:00pm - 7:30pm
School of Media & Communication, RMIT University

Room 9.3.4A
Building 9, RMIT University


Simone Gustafsson
University of Melbourne
Rebecca Hill
RMIT University
Helen Ngo
Deakin University

Topic areas


Wednesday 6:00-7:30pm

Building 9, cnr Bowen & Franklin Sts
Room 9.3.4A

Free admission. Wheelchair accessible (entry at the rear of Building 9). 

The Case of the Missing Hand: Gender, Disability and Body Norms in Selective Termination

Assoc. Prof. Catherine Mills (Monash University)


The practice of terminating a pregnancy following the diagnosis of a foetal abnormality 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. Further, I show that this case reveals a kind of 'undecidability' in the significance of fetal sex/gender and disability in termination. On the basis of this, I consider the conceptual interaction of disability with sex/gender, to argue that the ethics of disability termination are not as distinct from those of sex selection as is commonly supposed.


Associate Professor Catherine Mills is an ARC Future Fellow in the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University. Her current research explores issues at the intersection of reproductive ethics, feminist philosophy and Continental philosophy. She is the author of Futures of Reproduction: Bioethics and Biopolitics, and The Philosophy of Agamben. She is currently completing a book on biopolitics, as well as undertaking projects on prenatal testing and selective termination, and the concept of responsibility in reproductive ethics.

About PoD:

The Philosophies of Difference group (PoD) are a Melbourne-based group of scholars working in continental philosophy and interested in problems that have been marginal to the dominant traditions of Western thought. We engage with approaches including: critical philosophy of race, decolonial thought, feminist theory, Indigenous studies, philosophy of disability, philosophy of nature, queer theory, and trans philosophy. The first PoD seminar series will consist of weekly seminars beginning in March 2016. We especially welcome participation and contribution from women, people of colour, and other minority groups.

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