A few snippets from Benedict Carey’s recent New York Times article Psychiatrists Revise the Book of Human Troubles on the ongoing revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, expected to be published in 2012:

Is compulsive shopping a mental problem? Do children who continually recoil from sights and sounds suffer from sensory problems — or just need extra attention? Should a fetish be considered a mental disorder, as many now are? Panels of psychiatrists are hashing out just such questions, and their answers — to be published in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — will have consequences for insurance reimbursement, research and individuals’ psychological identity for years to come. The process has become such a contentious social and scientific exercise that for the first time the book’s publisher, the American Psychiatric Association, has required its contributors to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

You can read the whole article right here.

Peter Singer & Profound Intellectual Disability

[This post is the fifth in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

In a previous post, I questioned that Peter Singer’s position that moral status should be based on the demonstration of higher cognitive powers and not based on merely being human. In this post, I want to address his statement that the decision to keep children with profound mental retardation alive is acceptable as a parental choice but not an ethical obligation because such children have no moral status, since they lack the requisite higher cognitive powers. In making my case against this position, I intend to show that Singer’s arguments are based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of profound mental retardation or profound intellectual disability as it is more commonly called today. I doubt that Professor Singer has much personal experience with people with profound intellectual disabilities since his impression of them as a group seems very abstract and largely inaccurate. Although I would argue against the denial of moral status (and thereby of universal human rights) to people with profound intellectual disabilities, even if Singer’s assumptions about this group of people were true, I feel that it is important to correct the inaccurate assumptions presented about this group. Here is what Dr. Singer has to say about them:

Continue reading

CFP: ISHPSSB, Brisbane, July 12-16, 2009

Biennial Meeting, 12-16 July 2009, Brisbane, Australia

CALL FOR PAPERS (this information is also available from a link at the ISHPSSB meeting page: http://www.ishpssb.org/meeting.html)
Marsha Richmond and Manfred Laubichler, Program Co-Chairs

The 2009 meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology will take place from Sunday, 12 July, through Thursday, 16 July, at Emmanuel College, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Australia, hosted by the University of Sydney. ISHPSSB brings together scholars from diverse disciplines, including the life sciences as well as history, philosophy, and sociology of science. The ISHPSSB biennial summer conferences are known for their innovative, transdisciplinary sessions and for fostering informal, cooperative exchanges and on-going collaborations among a variety of international scholars. This will be the first meeting to be held in the southern hemisphere.

The aim of the conference is to facilitate the exchange of research ideas and results across a range of fields. The submission of papers and sessions on any topic within the society’s scope is welcomed. We also encourage the submission of posters, workshops, and general interest sessions based on themes identified in session proposals. It is our goal to develop a program that will allow maximal interactions, while also giving people the chance to present their ideas to their colleagues. …

Scholars wishing to attend the meeting are invited to submit session and paper proposals on the ISHPSSB website: http://www.ishpssb.org/meeting.html. Deadline for submissions is 1 February 2009. Continue reading

Defending Electroshock

The Alliance for Human Research Protection blog has a detailed and informative post that revolves around a recent National Public Radio broadcast on “Day to Day” that focuses on the forced electro-convulsive treatment (ECT) of a Minnesota man, Ray Sanford. The AHRP post ties this story, in interesting ways, to Shorter and Healy’s recent book on the history and return of ECT. The ARHP post ends with a quote from psychiatrist David Kaiser’s Psychiatric Times article from 1996, claiming it to be “as pertinent today as when he wrote it–except for his lack of knowledge about the hazardous effects of the new drugs”: Continue reading

The ethics of exclusion, the morality of abortion, and animals

[This post is the fourth in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

Here is a question from Adrienne Asch, together with a response from Jeff McMahan, following Jeff’s talk at the Cognitive Disability conference; Adrienne’s question followed directly on the heels of Naomi Scheman’s question, the subject of the previous post in this series.

[A full, unofficial transcript for this video clip, as well as a poll for you to participate in, are available beneath the fold. If you are having trouble playing the video above, the full transcript is provided at the end of the post, and you can also try Youtube directly by clicking right here, which for some will be more accessible.]

So does simply asking questions like “In virtue of what does human life have moral value and significance?” somehow express an ethics of exclusion? Asch seems to imply so, in part because it is asking us to draw a line between those that have some property, and those who lack it. Above the line are those with full moral status, and below it are The Rest, others who are thus excluded from full moral consideration, at least insofar as we consider them in and of themselves. If that is right, then even those who give very different kinds of answer to the question–such as those, like Naomi Scheman, who appeal to the relationships that people form a part of in their answers–still express this ethics of exclusion, at least at some level, even if they deliver an answer to the question that is more inclusive.

Asking the question as Asch has asked it—“Jeff, what is the purpose of this effort? If it is not the ethics of exclusion, I don’t know what it is.”—invites the personal response that McMahan gives to it. That response comes only after audience members are reminded that pro-choice views about abortion, popular with the politically liberal, express a kind of ethics of exclusion. I suspect that many of the disability theorists and activists in the room, perhaps influenced by Asch’s own work, don’t need reminding about this, at least when it comes to selective abortion on the basis of the results of genetic screening for “defects”. (See, for example, Adrienne Asch, 2003, “Disability Equality and Prenatal Testing: Contradictory of Compatible?”, Florida State University Law Review 315: 318-346–get this and thematically-related articles right here). McMahan got into this, he tells us, through thinking about the morality of abortion, and what it was about fetuses that made some people think that they should not be killed, while those same people were perfectly happy allowing all sorts of animals to be killed, and in some cases, eating them. McMahan’s answer is meant to provide an alternative to the answer that Asch herself seems to proffer. Where Asch sees an ethics of exclusion, McMahan sees the pursuit of abstract philosophical inquiry–albeit inquiry with real-world oomph–wherever it leads.

While one might see Asch and McMahan’s answer as alternatives, one need not; there is more than a grain of truth in each answer. Continue reading

something new from Singer

December 28, 2008
Harriet McBryde Johnson | b. 1957
Happy Nevertheless
New York Times

I met Harriet McBryde Johnson in the spring of 2001, when I was giving a lecture at the College of Charleston. Her brand of Southern etiquette prescribed that if you’re not prepared to shoot on sight, you have to be prepared to shake hands, so when I held out mine, she reached up from her powered wheelchair and took it with the three working fingers on her right hand. She added that she was attending my lecture as a supporter of Not Dead Yet, the disability rights organization that a year and a half earlier blockaded Princeton University’s Nassau Hall in protest against my appointment as a professor of bioethics. I told her I looked forward to an interesting exchange.

My lecture, “Rethinking Life and Death,” was a defense of the position that had aroused such vehement opposition. I pointed out that physicians routinely withdraw life support from severely disabled newborns, and I argued that this is not very different from allowing parents to decide, in consultation with their doctors, to end the life of a baby when the child has disabilities so serious that the family believes this will be best for the child or for the family as a whole.

When I finished, Johnson, who was born with a muscle-wasting disease, spoke up. I was saying, she pointed out, that her parents should have been permitted to kill her shortly after her birth. But she was now a lawyer, enjoying her life as much as anyone. It is a mistake, she said, to believe that having a disability makes life less worth living.

Our exchange of views continued for a few minutes in the lecture theater, and by e-mail afterward. Years later, when I read her autobiographical book, “Too Late to Die Young,” I wasn’t surprised to see “arguing hard” listed among the pleasures of her life.

The following year, Continue reading

Conference – The Inclusive Museum – Of Interest to What Sorts Folk

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
8-11 July 2009

At this time of fundamental social change, what is the role of the museum, both as a creature of that change, and perhaps also as an agent of change? The International Conference on the Inclusive Museum is a place where museum practioners, researchers, thinkers and teachers can engage in discussion on the historic character and future shape of the museum. The key question of the Conference is ‘How can the institution of the museum become more inclusive?’

Plenary speakers include:
*Stephane Martin, President, Ensemble Intercontemporain; CEO, Musée du quai Branly
*Alissandra Cummins, President of ICOM; Director, Barbados Museums and Historical Society, Barbados
*Kevin Gover, Director, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., USA
*Adi Meretui Ratunabuabua, Principal Cultural Development Officer, Ministry of Fijian Affairs, Culture and Heritage and Regional Development, Fiji
*Dawn Casey, Director of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia
*David Throsby, Professor of Economics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
*Marcus Wood, Professor, University of Sussex, UK
*Craddock Morton, Director, National Museum of Australia; President, ICOM Australia
*Catherine Branson, President, Australian Human Rights Commission

In addition, Continue reading