A few days ago, a woman named Renate Lindeman wrote an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen. She is the mother of two children with Down Syndrome. She is also the president of the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society. Over the last year, she noticed a startling development. Registrations with the Society declined significantly. She didn’t have to look far for an explanation: The drop in registrations coincided with the province’s introduction of an expanded prenatal screening program.
Now, I would describe myself as pro-life and Renate describes herself as pro-choice. To me, this situation, and our discomfort with the eugenics of it, highlight the “hollowness” of choice rhetoric – the “freedom” to abort very quickly becomes the duty to abort. (See my feticide post; I am also assuming that eugenics makes most of us a little uncomfortable.) Renate sees the situation more as a failure to provide women with meaningful choice. She writes:
Many hospitals across Canada do not bother to inform about living with Down syndrome, but instead limit information on their information to the prenatal screening — and prevention — process. This isn’t offering a choice to women; this is leaving women no choice…
With only negative or misinformation available it is a sad but true statistic that over 90 per cent of parents in Canada choose abortion when faced with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. As president of the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society I have seen the number of registrations of new babies drop an astonishing 85 per cent…
Is this the aimed objective?
I’m not sure what other objective there can be that would justify over-strained provincial health budgets being extended to include enhanced prenatal screening. In Ontario, doctors are required by law to offer maternal serum screening, even when the pregnant woman has indicated no interest whatever in prenatal screening. I’m cynical enough to wonder if somewhere a bureaucrat has justified the cost of prenatal screening by the savings incurred by the elimination of “defective” infants who might otherwise weigh heavily on the health system.
Renate isn’t waiting for provincial health department or the hospitals that “care” for pregnant women to take the initiative to provide accurate information on living with Down Syndrome. She and the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society have an excellent website, wonderfully titled “Down Home”. I recommend it highly.
Renate has also initiated an online petition asking for a Prenatal Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act. This legislation
would ensure provinces and territories … set aside appropriate resources for the establishment of educational and awareness campaigns that will enhance knowledge about diagnosed conditions and allow organizations to create and distribute balanced and accurate information to women and prospective parents.