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It is now broadly accepted that disability is a concept infused with both descriptive and evaluative meaning, such that invoking the concept of disability necessarily involves making judgements of moral value as well as describing certain facts about individuals. This paper aims to map the complex terrain that shapes our current understandings of disability by outlining five distinct 'discourses of disability'. It is shown how the similarities and differences between the discourses hinge on different ways of making sense of the descriptive and evaluative dimensions of the concept, and the relationships between these dimensions. The paper concludes by considering the specific implications that these different ways of elucidating the concept of disability might have for the provision of clinical ethics support, both in terms of shaping ethical decision-making relating to people with disabilities and in terms of framing the process of providing clinical ethics support itself.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical Ethics

Publication Date





32 - 38