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Hurts, insults and stigmas: a comment on Murphy
  1. James Lindemann Nelson
  1. Correspondence to Dr James Lindemann Nelson, Department of Philosophy, Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, 324 Linton Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA; jlnelson{at}msu.edu

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Both of the main points in Professor Murphy's paper seem to me clearly and effectively argued.1 It is incontrovertible that some people find hurtful the use of medical technologies to avoid the birth of children who, in the present order of things, would be disabled. No result from the philosophy of language, or anywhere else for that matter, can plausibly show otherwise. Indeed, even to speak of ‘legitimately interpreting’ events that cause one pain as ‘hurtful’, as Murphy does, seems a shade too conciliatory to any who has the temerity to doubt this matter: typically, at least, I don't interpret a state of affairs as hurtful. I experience it so—or not.

He's quite right to point out as well that the fact that someone's actions cause another to feel hurt does not, on its own, imply much of anything about the action's propriety. There are many serious people who are deeply distressed by others' reproductive choices that have nothing to do with disability: terminating a pregnancy for any reason causes some people considerable pain. Yet there seems no reason whatever to regard that pain, considered on its own, as a reason that—at least in general terms—should bear on a person's decision concerning whether or not to give birth to the fetus that she is gestating.

Expressivist arguments, so understood, then, seem to have had their measure taken. If anyone had the temerity to think that no one is hurt by choices to avoid or end pregnancies because they might lead to the birth of a child who would be disabled, they can drop that thought right now. On the other hand, if someone thought that the hurt suffered by such people constitutes a serious reason for restricting what others can find out about their potential or actual pregnancies, or …

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