Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Freedom of choice

UPDATE: This post earned a mention at Slate's Today's Blogs column.

During my wife's pregnancy, she and I were confronted with the same choice that all expectant parents face nowadays: whether to undergo the prenatal testing that can determine if a child is likely to be born with a birth defect or disability such as Down syndrome. But what to do with such knowledge?

We made our choice easily if not lightly. We decided to forgo the tests, because we knew we could not terminate the pregnancy, no matter the results. And because the tests are not 100 percent accurate, we did not want to live with a shadow cast over the pregnancy, only to find out when our daughter was born that we had nothing to fear. (Of course, with our daughter only three weeks old, there still is plenty to fear.)

Not everyone comes to the same conclusion, as the mother of a girl with Down syndrome discusses in this moving and troubling Washington Post story:

Whenever I am out with Margaret, I'm conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion. I don't know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent. ...

In ancient Greece, babies with disabilities were left out in the elements to die. We in America rely on prenatal genetic testing to make our selections in private, but the effect on society is the same.

Margaret's old pediatrician tells me that years ago he used to have a steady stream of patients with Down syndrome. Not anymore. Where did they go, I wonder. On the west side of L.A., they aren't being born anymore, he says. ...

Margaret is a person and a member of our family. She has my husband's eyes, my hair and my mother-in-law's sense of humor. We love and admire her because of who she is -- feisty and zesty and full of life -- not in spite of it. She enriches our lives. If we might not have chosen to welcome her into our family, given the choice, then that is a statement more about our ignorance than about her inherent worth.

I don't want to minimize either the trials of living with a severe disability or in raising a child with one. (I know, from experience in my own family, that neither is easy.) But how we can judge a person's quality of life before they are even born? And what other disabilities--or traits--will we decide are not worth living with, or not worth the inconvienence to those already living? Andrew Sullivan wonders what would happen if medical science allows us to identify a gene for homosexuality in utero. Slippery-slope arguments are of limited utility; as George Will has noted, all of life is lived on a slippery slope. Yet the pace of scientific progress is so rapid that these questions will be upon us sooner than we think. I hope we answer correctly.


Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

There is limited statistics about abortion and Down Syndrome. Articles about England, Hawaii, and a comparison between California, and the Czech Republic. It seems that the WP, and Sullivan over state the case. They seem to imply something like 75%, 80%, or 90%. From my glancing laymans search, it seems that the rates of DS live birth is about half of what it would expected to be.

If someday it is found that there really is a "gay gene", then suddenly that will be Federal resriction on this reason for an abortion, or making the test illegal. Cynical me.

12:22 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Yes, because gay people have so much political power.

Of course, the author of the WP article makes a false assumption in believing that what happens in southern California is indicative of any trends nationwide.

7:47 PM

Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

Thanks for bringing up this issue, Jonathan.
And thanks for personalizing it.
About two years back a friend of mine's wife had a child with Downs and other more serious medical problems. Because of this and his employment as an educator, my friend now sees a double standard in how disabled children are educated, versus "normal" kids. I'm not surprised by that double standard, but it still stinks.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares your view that mentally retarded folks' lives are worth protecting... If it weren't for the AARP, old people might become dispensable, too.

8:18 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

The gay movement clearly has disproportionate power given that it is 1% of the population.

First, I really doubt that it would end up being 100% genetic anyway. Oh, the law may not be passed, or be held constitutional if passed. I just like the thought of the left being forced into such a crystal clear hypocritical conundrum.

10:57 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

While I agree with the general premise of what the author wrote in the Post, I have issues with her final paragraph.

"And here's one more piece of un-discussable baggage: This question is a small but nonetheless significant part of what's driving the abortion discussion in this country. I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families. The abortion debate is not just about a woman's right to choose whether to have a baby; it's also about a woman's right to choose which baby she wants to have."

I’m sorry but, as someone with family members with Downs, to extrapolate that this is the only two faced argument for the left in the abortion debate and those with disabilities is complete bullshit. Equally unnerving is the consistent banter from the so-called pro-life movement regarding those receiving government assistance and the value and worth of what some view as the lesser of our society whether they be indigent and/or disabled. Just look at what a fool like Neil Boortz said last week behind a national broadcasted microphone last week.

I would add that to truly take politics off the table on an issue, that I dream that we could all agree upon, she could added this just as easily.

"I have to think that there are many pro-lifers who, while ignorant and openly dismissive to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be aborted. The abortion debate is not just about a child’s right to be born; it's also about equal rights and protections under the law after they are born.

Both sides have their own devils to face regarding this issue. To paint it as one sided belittles her argument.

2:51 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Yup, sure, I am all about "unproductive and bankrupt tactics". Basicly, I really don't understand your comment, and I am bored now.

11:37 PM

Blogger Cope said...

Interesting issue and congratulations on the Slate plug...

6:42 PM


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