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The Dream of the Perfect Child

Indiana University Press
Place of Publication: 
Bloomington, IN

"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.

Joan Rothschild points to the thousands of decisions about prenatal testing that are made each day in the doctor's office, 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. 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. (Publisher)