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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Aborting People with Disabilities

Last week, an editorial was published in the Washington Post, entitled "The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have," by Patricia E. Bauer. Ms. Bauer is the mother of Margaret, a girl with Down Syndrome, and her article is about the current phenomenon of prenatal testing for children with disabilities, and the resulting high percentage of abortions. Estimates are that upwards to 80-90% of those children in the womb diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. Some excerpts:

To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society. That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.

This view is probably particularly pronounced here in blue-state California, but I keep finding it everywhere, from academia on down. At a dinner party not long ago, I was seated next to the director of an Ivy League ethics program. In answer to another guest's question, he said he believes that prospective parents have a moral obligation to undergo prenatal testing and to terminate their pregnancy to avoid bringing forth a child with a disability, because it was immoral to subject a child to the kind of suffering he or she would have to endure. (When I started to pipe up about our family's experience, he smiled politely and turned to the lady on his left.)

. . .

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.

. . .
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.
Five letters to the editor in response, both for and against, can be found here. Those objecting take issue with the notion that abortion is being done for eugenic purposes. Regardless of whether eugenics are being pursued explicitly or not, it is undeniable that an overwhelming percentage of these children are being aborted. In fact, for most doctors there is a presumption that a child with a disability like Down Syndrome will be aborted, no doubt causing a certain amount of pressure on the parents to do so.

Obviously, aborting disabled people, people who can live very full, happy, and joyful lives is disturbing and immoral in itself. But I find it disturbing for another reason. With only 10% of Down's kids surviving childbirth, the numbers speak for themselves: our society is gradually turning into one that is "pure," free of individuals with mental disabilities. That means, for us who are "normal," we are losing the opportunity to interact and care for disabled people, which is an overwhelmingly enriching experience, a real oppportunity for charity, and a good reminder of what really matters in life. It also means, for those few remaining people with disabilities (always dwindling in number), as they become more and more outnumbered, they will become more and more subject to prejudice and increasingly considered unworthy members of society.