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Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society

The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society

An Ethical Analysis

Hans S. Reinders

_The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society _ questions developments in human genetic research from the perspective of persons with mental disabilities and their families. Hans S. Reinders argues that when we use terms such as “disease” and “defect” to describe conditions that genetic engineering might well eliminate, we may also be assuming that disabled lives are deplorable and horrific. Reinders points out that the possibility of preventing disabled lives is at odds with our commitment to the full inclusion of disabled citizens in society. The tension between these different perspectives is of concern to all of us as genetic testing procedures proliferate. Reinders warns that preventative uses of human genetics might even become a threat to the social security and welfare benefits that help support disabled persons and their families.

Reinders also argues that this conflict cannot be resolved or controlled on the level of public morality. Because a liberal society makes a commitment to individual freedom and choice, its members can consider the diagnostic and therapeutic uses of human genetics as options available to individual citizens. A liberal society will defend reproductive freedom as a matter of principle. Citizens may select their offspring in accord with their own personal values. Reinders concludes that the future of the mentally disabled in liberal society will depend on the strength of our moral convictions about the value of human life, rather than on the protective force of liberal morality.

One of the most important aspects of this book is Reinder’s attention to parents who have come to see the task of raising a disabled child as an enriching experience. These are people who change their conceptions of success and control and, therefore, their conceptions of themselves. They come to value their disabled children for what they have to give. Even though disabled children and disabled adults present parents and society with real challenges, the rewards are just as real.

This powerful critique of contemporary bioethics is sure to become required reading for those interested in human development, special education, ethics, philosophy, and theology.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02857-2
296 pages
Publication Year: 2000

Hans S. Reinders is the Willem van der Bergh Professor of Ethics and Mental Disability at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

“In The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, he subtly explores how genetic-testing technologies—ones that are already widely used and others that are just around the corner—adversely affect the standing of the disabled in liberal states. A professor of ethics, Reinders has written an intellectually challenging work of philosophy and social policy. [Reinders] has done a great service by demonstrating how even a seemingly benign aspect of the high-tech revolution, genetic testing, will have unintended consequences none of us can greet with equanimity.” —Policy Review

“[T]he book as a whole will offer to advanced undergraduates an engaging and challenging introduction to some of the most influential ethical thinkers of our time. Very highly recommended….” —Choice, October 2001 CHOICE 2001 Outstanding Academic Title

“[A] sophisticated and welcome contribution to what the author calls the continuing debate concerning the strengths and weaknesses of liberal morality that dominates contemporary society. This is a sobering book.” —Commonweal

“[A] well-reasoned examination….” —Theological Studies

“By demonstration the inherent paradoxes in liberal approaches to the disabled, he effectively reveals potential policy limitations that may threaten the social services available to the mentally disabled.” —Religious Studies Review

“…this book provides a rich resource for understanding thinking in contemporary secular bioethics…. Reinders’s work greatly helps one to understand the reasoning and application of liberal secular philosophy and details its shortcomings.” —The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

“This is a challenging and very important book. As Hans Reinders shows in The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, the meaning of life and the place of the disabled cannot adequately be understood within the liberal cosmopolitan morality; at best, it gives us mixed messages. It encourages a reproductive ethos supporting prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion, while it breaks down cultural and institutional barriers so as to aid the disabled. A liberal society requires what it cannot nurture but only protect: the commitment to share one’s life with another. This powerful volume takes us to foundational tensions within our contemporary secular morality.”—H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., Ph.D., M.D., Professor, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University

“Reinders goes beyond many of his contemporaries by challenging the reader to question the basic meaning of life. He shifts the discussion from the medical or defect paradigm of disability to the paradigm of normalization where potential is emphasized and valued. Given the challenges being posed by the almost exponential pace of new discoveries emerging from the human genome project, this is a most timely publication.” —Trevor R. Parmenter, Ph.D., President, International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities

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The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society

An Ethical Analysis

Hans S. Reinders

The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society: An Ethical Analysis
Paper Edition

_The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society _ questions developments in human genetic research from the perspective of persons with mental disabilities and their families. Hans S. Reinders argues that when we use terms such as “disease” and “defect” to describe conditions that genetic engineering might well eliminate, we may also be assuming that disabled lives are deplorable and horrific. Reinders points out that the possibility of preventing disabled lives is at odds with our commitment to the full inclusion of disabled citizens in society. The tension between these different perspectives is of concern to all of us as genetic testing procedures proliferate. Reinders warns that preventative uses of human genetics might even become a threat to the social security and welfare benefits that help support disabled persons and their families.

Reinders also argues that this conflict cannot be resolved or controlled on the level of public morality. Because a liberal society makes a commitment to individual freedom and choice, its members can consider the diagnostic and therapeutic uses of human genetics as options available to individual citizens. A liberal society will defend reproductive freedom as a matter of principle. Citizens may select their offspring in accord with their own personal values. Reinders concludes that the future of the mentally disabled in liberal society will depend on the strength of our moral convictions about the value of human life, rather than on the protective force of liberal morality.

One of the most important aspects of this book is Reinder’s attention to parents who have come to see the task of raising a disabled child as an enriching experience. These are people who change their conceptions of success and control and, therefore, their conceptions of themselves. They come to value their disabled children for what they have to give. Even though disabled children and disabled adults present parents and society with real challenges, the rewards are just as real.

This powerful critique of contemporary bioethics is sure to become required reading for those interested in human development, special education, ethics, philosophy, and theology.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02857-2

296 pages

“In The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, he subtly explores how genetic-testing technologies—ones that are already widely used and others that are just around the corner—adversely affect the standing of the disabled in liberal states. A professor of ethics, Reinders has written an intellectually challenging work of philosophy and social policy. [Reinders] has done a great service by demonstrating how even a seemingly benign aspect of the high-tech revolution, genetic testing, will have unintended consequences none of us can greet with equanimity.” —Policy Review

“[T]he book as a whole will offer to advanced undergraduates an engaging and challenging introduction to some of the most influential ethical thinkers of our time. Very highly recommended….” —Choice, October 2001 CHOICE 2001 Outstanding Academic Title

“[A] sophisticated and welcome contribution to what the author calls the continuing debate concerning the strengths and weaknesses of liberal morality that dominates contemporary society. This is a sobering book.” —Commonweal

“[A] well-reasoned examination….” —Theological Studies

“By demonstration the inherent paradoxes in liberal approaches to the disabled, he effectively reveals potential policy limitations that may threaten the social services available to the mentally disabled.” —Religious Studies Review

“…this book provides a rich resource for understanding thinking in contemporary secular bioethics…. Reinders’s work greatly helps one to understand the reasoning and application of liberal secular philosophy and details its shortcomings.” —The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

“This is a challenging and very important book. As Hans Reinders shows in The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, the meaning of life and the place of the disabled cannot adequately be understood within the liberal cosmopolitan morality; at best, it gives us mixed messages. It encourages a reproductive ethos supporting prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion, while it breaks down cultural and institutional barriers so as to aid the disabled. A liberal society requires what it cannot nurture but only protect: the commitment to share one’s life with another. This powerful volume takes us to foundational tensions within our contemporary secular morality.”—H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., Ph.D., M.D., Professor, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University

“Reinders goes beyond many of his contemporaries by challenging the reader to question the basic meaning of life. He shifts the discussion from the medical or defect paradigm of disability to the paradigm of normalization where potential is emphasized and valued. Given the challenges being posed by the almost exponential pace of new discoveries emerging from the human genome project, this is a most timely publication.” —Trevor R. Parmenter, Ph.D., President, International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities

Revisions: A Series of Books on Ethics

A Choice 2001 Outstanding Academic Book