Downer Syndrome


Man… what a couple of months it has been for me as a sports fan. I’ve had the excitement of watching the Astros scrape through in another down-to-the-wire pennant chase. They conquered some demons and finally made it to the World Series. I know that doesn’t mean much to you Cardinal fans out there, having been there many times, but for us Astro fans, it was a huge deal. The end result of the Series didn’t do anything to take the shine off. I was still elated. And of course, the Longhorns have been living up to the hype and gittin’ er done during an amazing march towards the Rose Bowl. Now, the Runnin’ Horns are ranked number two in preseason polls and considered serious contenders for a national championship in hoops.

I’ve devoted a lot of attention to watching sports lately. It takes my mind off the news. I’m sure many of you are like me and have to just step back and take a break for a while. I was suffering from politics overload, so I ignored most news with a political bent. I formed no opinion on Harriet Miers. I could have cared less about Tom Delay and Scooter Libby. It caught me by complete surprise when elections took place last week.

I was blissfully ignorant and enjoying a little sports induced euphoria.

All it took to break me out of my haze was a seemingly innocuous article about prenatal screening for Down’s Syndrome. The big news in the article is that Down’s Syndrome is now detectable in the first tri-mester of pregnancy. That’s great news, right? It allows parents to prepare for the challenges ahead and undergo further testing to best treat and care for the child. This sounds like a good thing.

Then things get downright depressing.

Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to
terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when doctors say an abortion is
safer and less traumatic.

That was it for me. I could barely read the rest of the article.

The saddest thing for me, though, is that I was not surprised in the least to hear that people were willing to abort a child because it was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. People are willing to abort pregnancies for much smaller reasons than that.

Have we really sunk this low as a society? Are we really this shallow?

Here’s another article about a case in England where a woman aborted her baby late in the second tri-mester because it had been diagnosed with a cleft palate. Let me say that again… she aborted her baby because it was going to be born with a cleft palate. A cleft palate is a very common birth defect and is routinely corrected with relatively minor surgery.

We have become so desensitized by the commonplace practice of abortion, that situations like this don’t even phase most people. And those that are phased by stories like the one in Britain, but consider themselves “pro-choice”, don’t recognize the contradiction in those two positions. We allow women to abort perfectly healthy babies, so how can we take offense when an “imperfect” child is aborted.

The ultimate problem is, how far do we take this? Today, children are aborted because of Down’s Syndrome or a cleft palate. Tomorrow it could be because parents wanted a boy instead of a girl, or a blond instead of brunette.

Sound ridiculous? Ask the mothers of female babies in China or India. We cringe at these human rights violations in other parts of the world. It offends our sensibilities that female children are still viewed as undesirable.

Why aren’t we similarly outraged by similar occurences in our culture? Because we are blinded by the log in our own eye. Our society views children that would be inconvenient as undesirable. We view children that might be physically unattractive as undesirable. We view children that might be a financial burden as undesirable. And we salve our collective conscience by rationalizing and debating over when life begins.

5 Responses to “Downer Syndrome”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Joe. If Sandi is reading, I’d be interested in her opinion, because I think there is some potential common ground here between the people on both sides of the abortion debate that place a real value on a person just because they are a person.

    The left routinely fights for the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the disabled, gender issues, prisoners, and so on – which is why I find myself on that side much more often than not. And this is why I share your disappointment that choices to abort would be made based on whether the child might be different. I value “different.”

    In this debate, it is my opinion that the decision to give birth should not depend on what the child will look like – simple as that…

  2. Sandi Says:

    Actually, I was thinking about this issue a couple of months ago. I used to think that I would choose to abort a fetus with any type of severe defect, but then a friend handed me a book called “Expecting Adam,” by Martha Beck (published in 1999), a memoir of this woman’s real experience of finding out that her baby would be Down’s syndrome and dealing with other people’s reactions to this news — which turned out to be, in many cases, worse than the news itself. I hate to recommend it because it paints a very unflattering picture of Ivy League academia, one which I share but not with too many people because anti-intellectualism as a general matter is a bad thing in my book. But it’s a great book, I read it in two days.

    The issue has so many layers. To the extent that it is just one way of articulating an anti-abortion-at-any-time-in-any-circumstance perspective, I think it is disingenuous (not to say that this is Joe’s motivation, but that I have encountered such elsewhere).

    But the question of acceptance of the disabled could certainly be extended to the period before birth. In a general way, the advancement of technologies that allow us to prevent as well as to treat are a mixed blessing … and we do not always use them wisely.

  3. DeJon Redd Says:

    I’m not being modest when I say I usually feel inadequate to comment on the houseflies’ thoughtful commentary. But this one is different.

    A couple we know and love just celebrated the birth of the fourth boy, Wyatt. They smile just as big discussing all four. The youngest is a beautiful 6-month old living with Down’s Syndrome.

    I’d love to sit through a 30-minute, articulate, informed discussion on this topic. But without hesitation I’d prefer to hold Wyatt for 30 minutes. Even I can grasp the sanctity of life in those moments. And I couldn’t imagine a deeper shame than giving up on Wyatt before birth because of his broken body.

    Is that not tantamount to the most violent and terrible form of prejudice?

  4. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Sandi – well put.

    Deej – Right on.

    I probably was a little harsh in my article in claiming that most folks in our society don’t bat an eye in this situation. (It’s a contractual obligation for me to have an appropriate level of cantankery in my articles.)

    After the brief discussion here and from what I’ve seen in other forums, this is an issue where most people (both red and blue staters) see the ethical dilemma and struggle with it.

    I just don’t understand how someone can see the ethical dilemma in this case, but choose to ignore the ethical dilemma present in the vast majority of cases where abortions are carried out merely due to the mother’s choice.

  5. Sandi Says:

    That’s a good point, Joe. It does seem inconsistent. And I guess to the extent that a person would be against aborting because an otherwise-wanted fetus had Down’s syndrome, but not against abortion in general, I can’t see a way out of the inconsistency.

    There’s a reason why abortion is one of the most controversial issues in America, and why most conversations about it seem to generate more heat than light. It is incredibly complex. I read somewhere the other day that each side is so afraid of its respective slippery slope that they feel they cannot acknowledge the other’s perspective. (I.e., the pro-choice side is afraid of losing birth control as well as abortion, and the anti-choice side is afraid of abortion being used as birth control and the general lack of thoughtfulness and respect for human life that they believe abortion entails being writ large in our society).

    I have tons to say about this since I’ve thought about it a lot, so maybe I’ll post about it next week.

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