Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines that Iceland is on track to “virtually eliminate Down Syndrome,” having achieved a close to 98% success rate in preventing DS fetuses from coming to term.
The energy and enthusiasm with which this is being reported belongs to a cancer-research breakthrough, not to what essentially amounts to a successfully-executed eugenics campaign. Make no mistake, advancements have not been made in ameliorating the negative effects of Trisomy 21 on human beings suffering from said condition, but rather, in the field of prenatal diagnosis and the dissemination of information to expectant women on the likelihood of their fetuses being “defective:”
“Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test.”
Maybe Icelanders are just particularly harsh? I mean, they do have some long, dark winters up there. But wait, there’s more:
“Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. According to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015). The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity — and Down syndrome is included in this category.”
Let’s explore an analogy here. Suppose we are able to craft foolproof, super-effective predictive prenatal testing that determines with near 100% accuracy whether or not your child will get cancer and whether that cancer will be a fatal, particularly virulent form that will end in certain death.
Perhaps they’ll survive infancy but succumb to leukemia in toddlerhood. Perhaps a sarcoma will claim them in the tween years. Maybe they’ll make it to their early 20s, but then carcinoma takes them down. Imagine, for a moment, the medical community rejoicing in this innovative predictive technique, exclaiming that now at last we have defeated the big C. Cancer-free fetuses can be virtually guaranteed, provided the little tykes still make good lifestyle choices and don’t smoke.
Do we rejoice? Has a disease truly been defeated, in this scenario? Are kids who are genetically doomed to cancer better off being aborted before their parents have a chance to bond with “defective” babies who will only end up breaking their hearts by dying young? Is the greater community served by not having to bear the brunt of their medical costs and the resource-draining care they will require?
It’s a little more shocking put in those terms, isn’t it?
We ought to be shocked. We ought to be mortally offended, in fact, by the suggestion that a nation claims to have nearly “eradicated Down Syndrome” when in fact they’ve just gotten really, really good at pushing prenatal testing and recommending selective termination of “undesirable” outcomes of conception.
Look, no parent gets any real choice in terms of how their kid turns out, health wise or otherwise.
Little Johnny may grow up to be a serial killer through no fault of his mother or father. Sarah might drop out of college and burn out on weed and work in an auto parts shop and get divorced at 29 and never buy a home. Isaac might win a Nobel Prize and negotiate lasting peace in the Middle East. Any given child might be a human being, in other words: wildly unpredictable and beyond the grasp of foolproof human manipulation.
And guess what? That’s the way it was designed.
Look how profoundly God’s first two children screwed things up. There is surely no clearer precedent for not being fully in control of one’s offspring’s destiny, from time immemorial.
And speaking of destiny and screwing up, who are we to say what “quality of life” really means?
Would a child destined for death by leukemia at age 7 be better off dead rather than being born only to suffer and die? Does a kid with DS have less inherent value than a typically-developing kid, or experience an impoverished version of reality simply because he has 3 chromosomes in a location where most of us have only two?
This is a dangerous path we’re treading down. Dangerous for what it signifies in terms of worth, value, and human rights, and dangerous for what it says about a society willing to blithely accept the lie that only certain “kinds” of human persons are valuable, are acceptable, are worth having around.
Look where that kind of thinking is getting us in our political and cultural landscape here at home in the US.
But, but, that’s totally different! Racism is a whole different disgusting animal apart from prenatal screening and selective termination. You can’t compare the two.
Can’t I? Isn’t there a common thread running through both philosophies, that certain people are less suited to live with the rest of us, that certain people are worth more or less than other types?
If we think that we can live in a civilized, post-racial society and at the same time celebrate the willful eradication of a certain “kind” of people, we are fooling ourselves.
Until we embrace the value of every human life: frail, fallible, weak, unwanted, unreliable and ultimately straight up mortal, same as the rest of us….we will continue to reap the whirlwind of violence and social unrest.