Hendricks, Philosophy, MAiD, and Eugenics: Making the Connections

What seems to have gone largely unnoticed about the post at Daily Nous by Perry Hendricks is that it attempts to sever any connection between the subject matter of a submission for potential publication and whether the submission is accepted for publication. The implication is that just as there is no systemic correspondence between subject matter of a potential publication and its acceptance for publication so too there is no systemic correspondence between one’s area of research and specialization, on one side, and one’s success with employment in philosophy, on the other.

Disabled philosophers of disability and other marginalized philosophers must push back against this most recent attempt to cover over the pervasive ableism of philosophy, including the unacknowledged ableism of Perry Hendrick’s own work. Indeed, it is not at all surprising nor is there anything at all “controversial” about the fact that Hendricks successfully published an article that naturalizes fetal impairment as a prediscursive and self-evidently disadvantageous personal characteristic rather than a social construction projected on to fetuses. In my article “Reproductive Freedom, Self-Regulation, and the Government of Impairment In Utero,” I argue against the sort of depoliticized assumptions about impairment that Hendricks makes.

In 2018/2019, when Hendricks’s purportedly “controversial” article appeared in Bioethics, the editor of that journal was Udo Schuklenk. Schuklenk is of course one of the Canadian philosophers who authored documents that have motivated the Canadian Federal Government to pass into law legislation—namely, MAiD—that provides medically assisted suicide in Canada. Schuklenk is also a vocal proponent of pandemic triage protocols that disabled lawyer David Lepofsky (among others) argues discriminate against disabled people.

In previous posts (e.g, here and here), I discussed how bioethicists (including feminist bioethicists) who continue to play a role in the development of MAiD have shaped philosophy departments in Canada and Canadian philosophy more generally, systematically excluding critical philosophical work on disability from serious attention in Canada and creating the hostile environment for disabled philosophers to which Alex Bryant, my Dialogues on Disability interviewee this month, referred in his interview. Contra Hendricks’s assertion, it is, in short, no coincidence that, given this hostility that conditions Canadian philosophy, there is not a single disabled philosopher of disability employed in a tenured/tenure-track position in a philosophy department in Canada.

Will feminist philosophers in Canada begin to ackowledge and resist these formative influences on Canadian philosophy? Or will they instead continue to ignore and obscure them as Hendricks’s claims entail? Will they continue to believe that the structural barriers that prevail in Canadian philosophy can be torn down if they make their conferences “inclusive”?

In late November, at the request of Catherine Frazee, I wrote a letter to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in opposition to Bill C-7, proposed legislation that would expand MAiD, increasing its coercive potential to be accessed by disabled Canadians experiencing poverty, unemployment, isolation, food insecurity, and homelessness. In the BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY post of the letter, I wrote:

“I have in fact written here on various occasions about the potentially devastating effects of MAID on disabled people in Canada; however, (nondisabled) feminist (and other) philosophers who aim to subvert asymmetrical forms of social, political, economic, and institutional power within and beyond both philosophy and the university seem not to have recognized that the threat of this legislation and opposition to it provide opportunities for them to substantiate their message of solidarity with disabled people and their professed claims of integrating analyses of ableism and disability into their work. When it comes to disability, every feminist philosopher seems to be a good liberal, invoking notions of individual choice and personal autonomy.”

Yesterday, Trudo Lemmens, a legal scholar and bioethicist, who is quite involved in efforts to convince the Canadian Federal Government to reject the proposed expansion of MAiD and to reconsider its approach to medically assisted suicide for disabled people, tweeted (and subsequently sent me) an article that recently appeared in The Canadian Journal of Bioethics. Written by Daryl Pullman, the article, entitled, “In a Familiar Voice: The Dominant Role of Women in Shapng Canadian Policy on Medical Assistance in Dying,” shows how the assumptions and arguments that a number of Canadian women judges, lawyers, and legal scholars, including Jocelyn Downie, run counter to much work in feminist and care ethics and in particular Downie’s own claims in feminist ethics, especially with respect to the centrality and primacy that these judges and legal authorities give to the notions of autonomy, independence, and self-determination.

Indeed, in one memorable sentence of the article, Pullman notes that “Downie has been relentless in advocating for expanding the eligibility criteria laid out in Bill C-14,” i.e., MAiD. As I show in the fifth chapter of Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability, Downie and feminist philosopher Susan Sherwin have nevertheless consistently denied the incremental normalization in Canada of medically assisted suicide, eschewing what they regard as “fallacious reasoning” about the increasingly coercive potential of the policy. In short, this new form of eugenics is steadily normalized and legitimized in the context of Canadian philosophy and bioethics, as the content of the Impact Ethics blog amply demonstrates.

As I have noted in earlier posts about MAiD, disabled people and their organizations across Canada persistently continue to resist these government-sanctioned eugenic policies and practices. Of special note is the upcoming online panel, “Death By Coercion,” which includes Trudo Lemmens (mentioned above) and Sarah Jama, who I’ve posted about in the past (go here). The poster (with image description) for the event, which takes place on February 1st, 6-8pm, and is organized by the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, can be found here.

Here is a recent article that discusses the exclusion of Indigenous, Black, queer, poor, and disabled people from consultation on MAiD, including remarks from Sarah Jama.

I will continue to provide updates on the increasingly frightening situation for disabled people in Canada.

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