Today I attended an annual fundraising walk for Autism Speaks with one of my students and her family. Autism Speaks is a national organization that funds research into causes and treatments of autism. The picture below shows protesters of the event. The protesters are from ASAN (Autistic Self-Advocacy Network), a group that opposes biomedical approaches to dealing with Autism and promotes the acceptance, tolerance, and the value of “neurodiversity” and emphasizing that autism is part of the natural range of human neuro-development. ASAN protests every year and I increasingly value their message. As the research that Autism Speaks funds comes closer to discovering a prenatal test, we still–as a culture and community–have not fully grappled with the ethical consequences of other prenatal tests, such as the test for Down’s Syndrome, a test that when yielding a positive result also results in a nearly 90% abortion rate (a statistic that I take from ASAN’s flier that was handed out today at the walk).
While I was a participant in the Autism Speaks walk and support biomedical research into the causes of autism, I also support ASAN’s goal of creating a more inclusive and accepting society. I share ASAN’s concerns around the use of biomedical research to eradicate autism in people who are already fully formed human beings and the eugenic potential of genetics research is something that has already outstripped the capacity of our current ethics. Perhaps this underscores, more than anything, the need to fund genuine work in ethics. Ethics in our culture is generally only considered and funded at the level of law and policy. Any genuine philosophical or speculative research in ethics is left to the minor fringes of academia or relegated to nostalgic religious institutions.
From last year: