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Friday, November 14, 2014

Health Discrimination

"If we wish to avoid being numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to rethink even our most fundamental attitudes" (Peter Singer "All Animals are Equal").

Some people argue that feminism is the last discrimination left for us to conquer. However, as Singer points out in his paper, we should never feel comfortable saying no forms of inequality still exist. In my Biomedical Ethics course, I realized there is a very real discrimination against those that live with a disease. I doubt this occurs intentionally; rather, people are ignorant that certain issues for which they argue display an underlying belief in the inequality between the healthy and those with an illness.

In the future, genetic selection can become a possibility for those considering to have a child. In this, doctors would create several viable embryos. At the eight cell stage, physicians study the genetic make-up of one cell. Then, a genetic map shows parents the risks of each potential child for developing  various diseases, or other superficial qualities such as eye color. Parents may choose which child comes into existence.

Some philosophers argue that this technology brings an obligation to the parents to genetically select all their children. "Couples who decide to have a child have a significant moral reason to select the child who, given his or her genetic endowment, can be expected to enjoy the most well-being" (Savulescu and Kahane "Procreative Beneficence). In a debate on this topic, Savulescu argues that society would overall experience less suffering in the world should less illness exist.

Without a further look, this reasoning seems to make obvious sense. However, one must remember that this argument is to genetically select people before they come into the world. Imagine someone inserting race, gender, religion, etc. into this reasoning. Overall, males enjoy a better quality of life, therefore we should genetically select only for that gender. Society would then experience a decrease in suffering. Intuitively, we know this reasoning does not add up. I challenge you to see similar discriminatory qualities in the argument when you replace gender with health qualities. By selecting against specific illnesses, parents boldly state that people living with that disease are not worthwhile and do not wish to bring another person with that illness into the world.

A non-identity problem also occurs. An advocate for disability and disease, Elizabeth Barnes, writes, "Why choose negative selection? It can't be to prevent local harms, because it only makes sense to prevent local harms to a specific individual. But there is no individual that you are preventing harm to" (Barnes "Disbility, Minority, and Difference"). Take into consideration, genetic selection does not increase overall quality of life for any person (perhaps the parents, but I think it is unfair to discriminate so the parents can have less medical bills). Selection does take child x with disease x and then give you child x without the disease. Rather, parents choose to bring child y into the world. Implicitly, the parents have chosen child y because they believed child x with disease x would not have as good of a life. We can see that no benefit occurs to child x because child x does not exist. As well, child y does not benefit because child y had no disease in the beginning.

We run into many issues at this point. Savulescu's argument stated that parents should genetically select for healthy children because they would experience better lives. However, we see that no one experiences an overall better life. Some argue that the better life occurs throughout society. They say the world would experience less suffering, so genetic selection would ultimately benefit everyone.

I hope everyone can see the problem here. This states that by not having people exist that have an illness, the world would overall be better. People that believe genetic selection would decrease suffering wish those with illnesses out of existence. Child y makes the world better than child x. Most of us know at least one person managing an illness that is an inspiration to us or even to a large population of people. Could you imagine had genetic selection been possible centuries ago and we selected out the people who we assumed to have "less good" lives? Abraham Lincoln who was believed to have depression, Isaac Newton who is thought to have some form of autism, and many people that we admire today that manage illness. I think most people would agree that society would not have been better should these people not exist.

Savulescu states we should select children with the best possibility for a good life. Although this author argues we do not know enough about genetics to make this decision, people exist today that think selecting against illness(es) will better the lives of their children. This belief shows deep ignorance on the effects that illness has on one's life and is deeply insulting to those that manage a disease. Having a disease does not increase overall suffering in the world. Rather than taking measures to stop people with illness from existing, the medical field should focus efforts on cures for diseases. Then, child x can exist without disease x.

We can only stop discrimination by educating those that do not understand how their beliefs are offensive or show an inequality between people. If you, or someone you know, lives with a disease, spread the word that the world is better because we exist!