Thursday, May 10, 2007

Unnatural Selection: Eugenic abortion for disease

From the Washington Post:

Despite technological advances, it's still anything but simple for pregnant women to determine what do after getting test results that suggest possible problems with a fetus. At issue is the possibility that an unborn child will develop Down syndrome or other conditions related to chromosome abnormalities. Down syndrome can lead to congenital heart defects and mental retardation.


In January, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that doctors offer non-invasive screening tests to all mothers before the 20th week of pregnancy. The doctors' group favors a combination of two tests: nuchal translucency (a type of ultrasound exam), and a blood test.


The ultimate decision about screening, though, should remain with the mother, the doctors said. After all, she must decide whether to continue with a pregnancy if there are indications the child will have a birth defect.

Apparently, it is better to die in the womb than to live with a serious genetic health problem.

As a trained educator, I find this notion sickening. Obviously, we hate to see anyone suffer, but we have no right to decide that they can't be born because we are too weak to handle it, and we'd prefer to eliminate the problem rather than make sacrifices to help them. Highly trained professionals in education and medicine have been working tirelessly for decades to help people with genetic abnormalities and disabilities to lead the most normal lives possible. I have had students with physical disabilities, emotional disorders, learning disabilities--even mild autism. I am required both by my own personal beliefs and the ethical requirements of my profession to give them the best possible learning opportunities when they enter my classroom. Each of these students has left his or her own special imprint on my memory, and I can safely say that their very presence has helped me to become a better person. I hope I was able to do the same for them.

But here is the elite in the medical community telling us in one breath that, while we must care for the disabled, it is okay to abort them so we don't have to be inconvenienced.


What is all of that educator training for, what is the point of so many advances in health care, and all of the equal access legislation to protect disabled persons? How deep does this institutional compassion in education and medicine and law really go, if society would simply prefer to eliminate these human beings from the gene pool? How can we as a culture be expected to treat disabled persons with equal respect and dignity, if we resent their very presence?

Dean Barnett over at TownHall has extra insight into the issue, being a Cystic Fibrosis patient himself. Many doctors would have told his parents to abort him, and even his own father has advocated that other parents to so with their own children. In spite of this, Barnett has lived a much longer (and I may dare to guess much fuller) life than what he was expected to have at the time of his birth. And he now adds to the ranks of the pro-life movement, along with other persons with disabilities and genetic diseases who realize the implications of such suggestions as those the ACOG is making now. Read Barnett's perspective on this story here.

Also, to see how even the smallest and shortest of lives can be full of meaning, check out this video made by two parents, whose infant son was born with Trisomy 18.

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future"
Update: Dean Barnett has also posted a letter he received in response to his essay on pre-natal screening and abortion. This is from a neonatologist who is also the father of a little girl with down syndrome. I strongly recommend reading it.
Update II: I feel famous! has linked to my blog in their daily roundup of blog chatter. Naturally, they disagree with me, but I can handle it. :) Honestly though, if they really wanted compelling stuff, they should have linked to one of the posts to which I have referred here.

Speaking of which, Slate also links to another blog post on this issue by a woman who describes the general shock and fear among her health care providers when she chose to carry her child with down-syndrome to term.
Update III: If you are facing the possibility (or the reality) of raising a child with down syndrome, there are many organizations that offer support and information. A Google search for "down syndrome support" yields many promising links.


Jeff said...

Great post and thanks for welcoming all kids into your class.


Christina said...


Mainstreaming students with special needs is a particularly challenging area of the education field. While I can't say I'm a master of it yet, I have learned a great deal from my past students.

If teaching (or parenting) isn't enough to make a one appreciate the value of every human life, I don't know what will.

Ally said...

Great post and I wholeheartedly agree. I am pregnant with my third and turned down the screening tests as I would not choose to abort based on a outcome.

Christina said...


Congrats on your third child!