Jonas-Sébastien is pursuing a post-doctorate at the Faculy of Law of McGill University.
The Trudeau Foundation helped me pursue my doctoral studies at the University of Oxford law faculty, which has special expertise in the philosophy of law. Studying there allowed me to thoroughly analyse theoretical questions about the foundations of the rights of disabled people.
The generous amount of the Trudeau scholarship and the annual travel allowance significantly transforms the doctoral experience. In my case, the Trudeau scholarship enabled me to take part in a bioethics course at NYU and to participate in many conferences, including the Amnesty Lectures at Oxford. I also visited world-renowned researchers working in the field of disability, including Anita Silvers, professor and chair of the philosophy department at San Francisco State University, and Eva Feder Kittay, philosophy professor at Stony Brook University (New York). I volunteered at L’Arche, a community that cares for mentally disabled people in Trosly (France), which gave me the opportunity to live with mentally disabled people and add a practical aspect to my theoretical research. While there, I had the privilege of speaking with the founder, Jean Vanier. And, finally, I was able to work with Carolyn Ells, associate professor in the biomedical ethics unit at McGill, and to develop deeper ties with the academic community where I hope to work. The various Trudeau events also helped me network by introducing me to exceptional academics and professionals, some of whom have become my friends.
Jonas obtained two bachelors in law (civil law and common law) from McGill University and a master of laws from Harvard Law School. He is also a member of the Quebec Bar (Canada). He served as a law clerk for the Honorable Marie Deschamps at the Supreme Court of Canada and as a law trainee with Judges Kenneth Keith and Peter Tomka at the International Court of Justice, in The Hague. He held the Harvard Human Rights Program, the Henigson Human Rights Fellowship, at the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the NGO representing the largest number of victims under the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights, in Buenos Aires. As a law student, he had previously worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission and interned at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica.
In terms of teaching, he has given two tutorials at the University of Oxford (St. Catherine’s College) on Human rights in Latin America and on Global justice. He has also held the position of Adjunct Visiting Professor at San Francisco State University. In terms of publications, he has written a monograph in the field of human rights law and freedom of the press in Latin America as well as various articles in human rights law and ethics.
As a Pierre Elliott Trudeau scholar, he is completing his doctoral thesis in legal theory at the Faculty of Law of the University of Oxford, which is provisionally entitled “The Moral Status of Profoundly Mentally Disabled People”. In his dissertation, he studies the justifications of the rights of people with severe mental disability. This thesis is in line with his research on the way legal structures can contribute to exclude directly or indirectly certain groups of people (women, indigenous people, the poor), as exemplified in his articles published in diverse Law Journals.
Justifying the Rights of Profoundly Mentally Disabled Individuals
Jonas' doctoral thesis aims at criticizing and expanding existing justifications for the rights and moral status of profoundly mentally disabled people (PMD). His main argument consists of a criticism of social contract theories for their self-regarding bias and their focus on autonomy, which makes it difficult to justify the strong moral obligations (generally correlating robust rights) we have toward the PMD. There is a strong tendency to justify the rights of the PMD by showing how even self-regarding concern requires that we care for them (we could, after all, be cognitively impaired ourselves or have family members who are or will be so impaired). This line of thought seems like a natural expansion of John Rawls’ influential argumentative strategy in his writings on justice. He has spent most of his doctoral work analyzing similar contractualist arguments and have found that this Rawlsian expansion, its criticisms and counter-criticisms may all fail to make sufficient room for the motivational power and the moral significance of other-regarding concern. They are not heading completely in the wrong direction but they always need to ground the concern for the disabled on some sort of contribution they can make to their community or at least some sort of engagement they can have with their community - which reduces the nature of the communal moral bond to that of a community (or likeness) in key cognitive capacities. In a closing chapter, he plans to explore which alternative theories justifying the rights of the profoundly mentally on other basis than their capacities are most promising, especially in so far as they make room for other-regarding concern.