Inclusion, tolerance & acceptance. These are the values and opinions most highly esteemed in the post-Christian West. Being thought to have fallen short on one of them can cost you your job. Their constant use & ubiquity is so great that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if people rated them highly among their own personal values. Therefore to be a good person in the West is to be inclusive and tolerant. And if someone is ‘born that way’ (whatever that way means) we should be tolerant and inclusive and grant those people all the rights and privileges that belong to everyone else. We are happy saying there is no normal anymore, so get used to it.
Unless of course, they have three copies of chromosome 21 and not the usual two. In that case, the child is usually aborted. In some countries, the rate is as high as 95%. It’s an overwhelming choice to abort people who are different.
Sarah Zhang’s outstanding article The Last Children of Down Syndrome highlights the inherent contradictions that we have embraced.
In wealthy countries, it seems to be at once the best and the worst time for Down Syndrome. Better health care has more than doubled life expectancy. Better access to education means most children with Down syndrome will learn to read and write. Few people speak publicly about wanting to “eliminate” Down syndrome. Yet individual choices are adding up to something very close to that.
This seems a very long way from tolerant and inclusive.
Parents of children with Down syndrome have described to me the initial process of mourning the child they thought they would have: the child whom they were going to walk down the aisle, who was going to graduate from college, who was going to become president. None of this is guaranteed with any kid, of course, but while most parents go through a slow realignment of expectations over the years, prenatal testing was a rapid plummet into disappointment—all those dreams, however unrealistic, evaporating at once. And then the doctors present you with a long list of medical conditions associated with Down syndrome. Think about it this way, Karl Emil’s sister, Ann Katrine, said: “If you handed any expecting Parent a whole list of everything their child could possibly encounter during their entire life span—illnesses and stuff like that—then anyone would be scared.”
These fears coupled with the loss of moral qualms over Abortion make that route the path most-trodden. Yet, it forces those who make that choice to confront a few uncomfortable realities.
To have a child is to begin a relationship that you cannot sever. It is supposed to be unconditional, which is perhaps what most troubles us about selective abortion—it’s an admission that the relationship can in fact be conditional.
That’s a stinger. We want to say we’d love our child no-matter what. Except that’s not true. And that leads to more uncomfortable truths.
“We are a rich society, and we think it’s important that different types of people should be here.” And for some of the women who end up choosing abortion, “their own self-understanding is a little shaken, because they have to accept they aren’t the kind of person like they thought,” she said. They were not the type of person who would choose to have a child with a disability.
This is likely compounded by the adulation we give to those that do make that choice.
Zhang goes on to describe the experiences of a woman who chose the abortion path who says, “It felt right for me, and I have no regrets at all,” yet that bold statement rings hollow when you consider the preceding paragraph.
In the hospital bed, she began sobbing so hard, the staff had difficulty sedating her. The depth of her emotions surprised her, because she was so sure of her decision. The abortion was two years ago, and she doesn’t think about it much anymore. But recounting it on the phone, she began crying again.
So no regrets at all?
The overwhelming choice to abort babies with Downs Syndrome raises all sorts of troubling ethical questions. Especially when you consider the test parents ask for most is whether autism can be detected in the womb. It can’t. Yet. But that the question is raised at all suggests that we already know what choice people would make given the chance.
Down syndrome is frequently called the “canary in the coal mine” for selective reproduction. It was one of the first genetic conditions to be routinely screened for in utero, and it remains the most morally troubling because it is among the least severe. It is very much compatible with life—even a long, happy life.
And this ability to be happy and live a long and fulfilled life only heightens the contradiction. Chris Nikic is the First Person with Down Syndrome to Ever Complete a Full Ironman and has therefore demonstrated far greater strength and endurance than I ever will, and quite possibly more than anyone who ever reads this ever will. The only thing that the fact that not everyone with Downs could do that means is, that they’re just like the rest of us. Should the fact that they have higher risks mean they’re not deserving of life?
At the very least they should face the same risk of abortion as everyone else and not a greater risk as is currently the case. And here a young woman describes her distress that we would treat her differently. Yet we do.
I have a foster-brother with learning disabilities and he’s not able to do half the things that many with Downs can so I’m not insulated or detached from the realities of what it means to care for someone with special needs. I’m not unsympathetic to those that look down the road of a changed future and a life they didn’t expect 1 and think that road is too hard for them because it is hard. And therein lies a lie. That a rich and fulfilled life should be an easy one or one without sacrifice.
People will make sacrifices if we have no choice but when we do, well, why would you? We are not really the kind of people we thought we were. But then who is?____________________________________________________________
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