Bioethics Blogs

Disability and Minimally Decent Samaritanism

This week, The Court of Appeal in the UK ruled that bus companies are not legally required to force parents with buggies to make way for wheelchair users in designated bays on vehicles. 

This ruling overturned a 2013 County Court judgement in favour of a Mr. Doug Paulley. Mr Paulley was awarded £5’500 damages after he was prevented from boarding a bus because a woman with a buggie had refused to move from the bay designated for wheelchairs and buggies on the bus, claiming that doing so would wake her sleeping baby. Since the bus company had a policy of requesting but not requiring that people vacate the disabled bay, the bus company was originally found to have been in breach of the Equality Act 2010. The BBC report suggests that Paulley’s lawyers are already planning to appeal to the Supreme Court in response to the overturning of this ruling.

I presume that most readers will believe that the mother in this case did not act in a morally admirable way. One way to frame our moral understanding of the case is in terms of the claim rights of disabled persons. On this framing, Mr Paulley’s case might be taken to suggest that a disabled person’s claim to using the space on the bus should be legally recognised as having greater weight than a parent’s claim to the use the same space. One might seek to justify this view by pointing out the importance of public transport for disabled members of society. As a disability rights activist claimed in response to the 2013 ruling in Paulley’s favour:

 For millions of disabled people looking to travel to work, the shops or hospital visits, public transport is our lifeline

However, it is not clear that the fact that Mr Paulley might plausibly be said to have a greater claim to using this space is really what is doing the work behind our moral intuitions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.