March 1, 2024

The bioethics of intellectual disability

Hi there,

We are back from holidays. My apologies to a few new subscribers who received a polite automated note asking how they liked BioEdge – even though they still hadn’t received a single issue. One of the unhappy consequences of living in the southern hemisphere is that Australian holidays are perpetually out of synch with those enjoyed by most of our readership.

One of the threads in this week’s issue is the bioethics of intellectual disability. In the first story, a Massachusetts judge ordered a pregnant woman with schizophrenia to be aborted and to be sterilized – even though the woman clearly did not want this. I thought that the era of state-mandated sterilization ended decades ago. Some people fear that similar situations happen reasonably often.

In the second story, doctors at a Philadelphia hospital have denied a kidney transplant to a 3-year-old girl with significant intellectual and physical disabilities. It seems that the doctors reasoned that she didn’t have sufficient quality of life.

It’s a bit dangerous to pontificate without access to all the facts, not just what one gleans from newspapers. However, it does seem that people with intellectual disabilities are regard by some as having less dignity than the rest of us. It’s a dangerous idea.  


Michael Cook