A disability scholar is warning that choosing an embryo over another because of possible disabilities is based on a myth that a disabled life is a lesser life.

“When you choose between embryos, you don’t really know what you are choosing. You might discard an impaired embryo and choose one that looks perfect, but that perfect child might give you much more trouble than a disabled child,” Eva Feder Kittay told this newspaper.

“A disabled child might give you much more happiness and have a much better life. We make the immediate assumption that a disabled life is a lesser life... This is a myth,” she insisted.

Prof. Kittay was in Malta to deliver lectures and meet with stakeholders in the disability field. Her visit coincided with a nationwide discussion on the divisive amendments to the IVF law.

Among others, Pierre Schembri Wismayer, who contributed to drafting the existing legislation, has noted that embryologists will select the “best two” embryos of the permitted five for IVF treatment to have a higher probability of success.

Prof. Kittay notes that choosing the healthiest embryos raises similar questions to that of prenatal testing. Living in an ableist society, it seems inevitable that people will want to choose embryos. However, she insists, people with a disability claim as much satisfaction with their lives, “except that they have to deal with a lot of nonsense from society”.

Sometimes, dependence is a means to a more flourishing life

Herself a mother of a 48-year-old with a “very severe disability”, she believes there are different ways of leading a fulfilling life. Some who experience disability later in life say their values and priorities change and they are actually happier nowadays.

Prof. Kittay is one of the theorists who worked to develop the idea of ‘the ethics of care’, first introduced by American psychologist Carol Gilligan.

While several disability activists stress the idea of independence, she believes dependency is at the heart of society. “Dependence is a feature of all human life. But the dependency of those of us who are more privileged is less visible. You and I think we are independent, as we earn a wage, however we are dependent on our employer, who, in turn, is dependent on their customers.”

Looking at it this way, one realises that dependency is not necessarily a bad or a good thing. “Some very rich people are dependent on their housekeeper, chauffeur and maid. What happens when you take those people away from them?

But that is not the kind of dependence that we stigmatise. “I’m emotionally very dependent on my daughter. Hopefully, she can go on without me. It would be terrible if I had to go on without her,” she said.

For Prof. Kittay, independence is not an end in itself but rather a means to a more flourishing life. Sometimes, dependence is a means to a more flourishing life.

During her stay, Prof. Kittay was a keynote speaker, sponsored by the US Fulbright Programme, at a conference themed Emerging Disability Issues and organised by the Department of Disability Studies.

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