|Dream of the Perfect Child
by Joan Rothschild
Provides a Feminist Critique of Bioethics and Attitudes toward Reproduction Technologies and the Disabled
“Others have addressed the societal implications of contemplating ‘the perfect child’ but no one has written about it so poignantly, so compellingly, and so beautifully. . . . The best discussion of bioethics and reproductive practices I’ve seen.” —Carole Browner, University of California, Los Angeles
“Science and technology, medical professionals, and parents meet in the doctor’s office. This privatized setting is the site for individual decisions: whether to test or not, whether to keep a pregnancy or terminate it, and for which diagnosed ‘defect.’ Each decision becomes another judgment as to which conditions, and which children, are acceptable or not. As they aggregate over time, individual decisions add up to a selection process, marking the imperfect, those who may be dispensed with, while certifying those worthy to be born. This process constitutes the discourse of the perfect child.”
—from the Introduction
Every parent wants a healthy, normal child, and scientific and technological advances have now made this increasingly possible to achieve. But progress comes with a price. Tracing its roots from Enlightenment thought through the biological discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries, Joan Rothschild shows how the dream of human perfectibility masks a darker motivation to eliminate all that does not meet its increasingly heightened standards.
Rothschild points to the thousands of decisions about prenatal testing that are made each day by prospective parents and their doctors, the context in which they occur, and how they add up to the discourse of the perfect—and imperfect—child. She argues that the mainstream bioethics community has been ineffective in raising appropriate questions, resulting in support for the status quo.
The Dream of the Perfect Child is the first book to put the practice of prenatal diagnosis into historical, cultural, and ideological contexts, deconstructing the discourse through changing scientific, cultural, and historical moments. Not a matter of conspiracy or plot—as “brave new world” alarmists would have it—the dream of the perfect child arises today in reproductive medical practice, as individual decisions about prenatal diagnosis select and begin to rank which fetuses, and therefore which children, are acceptable or not, reinforcing negative attitudes toward people with disabilities, and setting standards for the perfect. Rothschild places these decisions within the history of negative attitudes toward people with disabilities from the 18th century to the present, as the striving for human perfectibility produced an underside in negative images and eugenics. While predictions—both bad and good—about making perfect babies and people have been the subject of other books and articles, none has offered the kind of historic context that is set forth here.
Drawing on counter-voices from medicine and feminist ethics, as well as from pregnant women and people with disabilities, The Dream of the Perfect Child reevaluates the uses of genetics and prenatal testing. Ultimately, the goal is to change reproductive medical practice and thereby transform the dream.
About the author
JOAN ROTHSCHILD is professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and research associate at the Center for Human Environments, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. The author and editor of numerous articles and books, Rothschild was instrumental in establishing the field known as “gender and technology” with the publication of Machina Ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology in 1983. The Dream of the Perfect Child is the culmination of almost two decades of research on this topic
The Dream of the Perfect Child
By Joan Rothschild
304 pages, 5 b&w illus., bibliog.. index , 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Trade paperback, $24.95 ISBN 0-253-21760-1
Also available in hardcover, $60 ISBN 0-253-34565-0
Published: June 20, 2005 by Indiana University Press
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Date of release: May 18, 2005
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