Lucy Langston

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




E. Gedge




This thesis explores the contribution that both a postphenomenological understanding of technology and a relational understanding of autonomy can make to the ethical debate over prenatal screening. Postphenomenological theories of technology make the surprising move of viewing artefacts as actors without agency. This move is useful because it allows artefacts to be socially embedded and able to convey intentionality in their relationships of mutual constitution with human subjects. The relational model of autonomy views autonomy as a capacity that is developed via our relations with others. Self trust is a key component of relational autonomy because in order to exercise autonomous capacity one has to have trust in oneself to make autonomous decisions. A key area of the ethical debate over prenatal screening can be articulated in terms of how prenatal screening interacts with and contributes to the identities of individuals, artefacts and social groups involved. Practices such as prenatal screening have a large influence on social identities because they overlap with significant social, ethical and political issues - such as the rights and value of women, people with disabilities and fetuses - and ethical values such as autonomy. Narratives that arise in our interactions with prenatal screening are particularly important because they have particular force of voice due to the authority that 'medicine' and 'science' imbue them. Prenatal screening provides a useful service and I am not arguing that prenatal screening should not be conducted but rather that we need to be aware of how the particular practice of prenatal screening interacts with both individuals and artefacts to contribute to a variety of social narratives, some of which are coercive, or harmful to particular social groups.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Philosophy Commons