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The expressivist objection to prenatal diagnosis: can it be laid to rest?
  1. S Holm
  1. Professor Søren Holm, Cardiff Law School, Museum Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK; holms{at}

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Tom Shakespeare’s book Disability rights and wrongs is very rich and interesting and ought to be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the relation between disability and medical ethics.1

In my short contribution to this symposium on the book, I will focus on a particular aspect of his discussion of prenatal diagnosis and termination of pregnancy.

In chapter 6 of Disability rights and wrongs, a chapter entitled Questioning prenatal diagnosis, the author discusses a wide range of issues concerning the relation between disability and prenatal diagnosis. One of the arguments he discusses is the so-called “expressivist objection” to prenatal diagnosis—that is, the claim that prenatal diagnosis expresses a discriminatory or negative attitude towards people with disability. After having analysed the expressivist objection, Shakespeare, in line with a range of other authors, concludes that the argument is not sound:

Nor should we interpret a decision to have a test or a termination as expressing disrespect or discrimination towards disabled people.(p102)1

Is it thus time now to lay the expressivist objection to rest? In the following, I will suggest that it may be too early to completely dismiss the objection, partially because it is often misrepresented by its opponents, who argue against implausibly strong versions of the objection.


What does the expressivist objection essentially claim? The core of the claim is, as described above, that prenatal diagnosis and termination of pregnancy expresses certain attitudes towards disabled people. What is taken to express these attitudes may be the social practice of prenatal diagnosis and termination of pregnancy either …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.