The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society

The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society
An Ethical Analysis
By Hans S. Reinders
University of Notre Dame Press, $17, 296 pp.

This book is 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." Its thesis: Despite recent public-policy efforts to ensure equal opportunity and access for all, liberal society cannot sustain equal regard for persons with disabilities. This is especially true if the disabilities in question are "mental." The liberal presupposition which privileges "choice" as the primary category in public life and apogee of human aspiration, together with modern technologies of reproductive and genetic engineering, dictate that it would be far better if human persons who are, by definition, incapable of choosing on the liberal model were not to appear among us.

So strong is the prejudice in this direction that we simply assume that hypothetical unborn children with cognitive disabilities would, if they could, choose not to be born. Liberal society, under the dominant Rawlsian model, holds that persons with mental handicaps should be given "access" and should not be discriminated against unjustly. But the fact that such human beings have rights if they live in our midst does nothing to mitigate the cultural norms that measure progress by how successful we have been at lowering the incidence of births of the disabled.

Hans S. Reinders, professor of ethics and mental disability at the...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political theorist, authored more than a dozen books, including Women and War (1987), Democracy on Trial (1993), Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1996), and Sovereignty: God, State, Self (2008). She was a frequent contributor to Commonweal and covered many subjects in our pages, including feminism, family, just war, criminal justice, and capitalism.