Lucy Burke of Manchester Metropolitan University worries that 'neo-utilitarian' and neoliberal orthodoxies will lead prenatal screening for disability into becoming a hostile environment for disabled people (notably Down's syndrome which Noninvasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) is especially effective at detecting). 

I have sympathy with Burke, more especially because of the way 'utlilitarian' is often interpreted. Utility is in fact an ambiguous term. The classical Utilitarians Bentham and Mill meant utility to individual people (aggregating for society generally). But nowadays utility - and cost-benefit analysis - is most often taken to mean utility to the society, nation, or even government, which is not the same thing.

If 'neo-utilitarian' held the classical 18th and 19th century sense it might reasonably be linked with respect for diversity, with disabled people (and their parents) finding their own ways to a rich and fulfilling life. But if we understand 'utilitarian' more collectively, it might seem sensible to encourage women to take up prenatal screening to cut down on burdonsome disabilities - and spending on ESA, PIP and other disability benefits. That is, even without reviving dreams of eugenics. (By the way, gene editing is different from eugenics because it acts directly on the person irrespective of breeding. The dangers are different in that case.) 

Bearing in mind the charged political connotations of 'hostile environment' in regard to migrants (whose numbers can be expected to swell in response to climate change and political crisis) any attempted calculation of utility is likely to be highly problematic.  

Blog home Next Previous