Conceiving Harm: Disability Discrimination in Assisted Reproductive Technologies


Applying the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to denials of treatment by assisted reproductive technology (ART) practitioners raises particularly challenging legal and ethical issues. On the one hand, the danger that physicians will inappropriately deny treatment to patients with disabilities is especially worrisome in the context of ARTs, given the widespread stigma associated with reproduction by individuals with disabilities. On the other hand, patients' disabilities may sometimes have potentially devastating implications for any child resulting from treatment, including the possibility that the child will be born with life-threatening or seriously debilitating impairments. Some physicians have strong ethical objections to helping patients become pregnant in the face of such risks. In this Article, Professor Coleman develops a framework for applying the ADA to disability-based denials of ARTs that addresses these competing considerations. In recognizing risks to the future child as a potential defense to a disability discrimination claim, Professor Coleman rejects the view of some commentators that such risks are relevant to reproductive decisions only if the child is likely to suffer so much that he or she would prefer not to exist. Instead, he proposes that, when a patient's disabilities create significant risks to the future child, the question should not be whether the child's life is likely to be so awful that nonexistence would be preferable, but how the risks and benefits of the requested treatment compare to those associated with other available reproductive and parenting options. Professor Coleman provides a theoretical justification for adopting this comparative framework, and examines how ADA precedents developed in other contexts should be applied to decisions about ARTs.

About the Author

Associate Professor of Law and Associate Director, Health Law & Policy Program, Seton Hall Law School. J.D., A.M., Harvard University; B.S.F.S., Georgetown University

By uclalaw