Enthusiastic as I am about the information campaign lead by the Down Syndrome Society, I can’t help but wonder to what extent their efforts aren’t compromised by their unwillingness to face the abortion debate head-on. Not wanting to state that abortion can be wrong, their argument is based on a contradiction: How can you explain to a family facing a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome that any selfish reason is enough to abort any fetus except for theirs? Is their decision less right than that of a 30-something who forgot to take her pill?
The problem with the whole information campaign is that it does not address the root of the problem — which is, incidentally, the root of the abortion argument — that is, rampant individualism. As long as we uphold rampant individualism as the flagship of liberal society, we can inform people until we are blue in the face, nothing will make self-sacrifice palatable, as “Paul” so aptly demonstrated on our Comments page. Not even calls for more diversity.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe eugenic abortion is as wrong as any abortion, and I also believe that expecting parents are misinformed. But I wish that pro-abortion advocates who feel squirmy about genetic abortions would say something against abortion, at least in the one regard. Have the courage of your convictions–it’s liberating.
Patricia adds: I agree with Véronique that, if abortion is wrong, then it’s wrong, whether it’s for eugenic reasons, for reasons of “sex selection” or because I have a beach holiday planned. For most feminists, the right to abortion is a great cause for celebration, except when the fetus aborted is a girl and it’s aborted because it’s a girl. For the pro-choice parent of a child with DS, the objectionable reason for abortion is the DS. Neither is a morally coherent position.
That said, as a parent with a child with Down Syndrome, I understand why the people who run the CDSS are so particularly appalled with the eugenic effect of maternal screening and prenatal testing programs that are offered as part of good prenatal health care in Canada. I think that for most of these parents, it’s one thing to recognize a generic “woman’s right to choose” out there somewhere. After all, for most of their lives, they’ve been told that the only reasonable enlightened position. But now, all of a sudden, that right to choose is being exercised to eliminate kids like yours from the face of the earth. Suddenly, you find that it’s your child who is treated as a mistake who somehow slipped through the cracks of good prenatal care. (I know, I’ve used that phrase before.) And your status is “freakish” as you realize that there are fewer and fewer parents like you around. That is an eye-opening experience for many people, I think.
And also, I think that there is a bit of an epiphany that happens when you have a child like this, especially if it’s not something that you ever anticipated touching you personally. You realize that this thing that everyone seems to think is so awful, that should be avoided at all costs, is probably one of the better things that ever happened to you. As one parent writes about his daughter with DS “she has enriched my life to a degree I didn’t think was possible. She changed my whole focus on life, on what has value and what doesn’t have value, and what we consider valuable.” Not surprisingly, you get a bit evangelical about it. (There was an article on just this point in the Ottawa Citizen on the weekend.)
Now, obviously, I’m hoping that this epiphany will make these parents and other people realize that they should reconsider their whole position on so-called “unwanted” human beings. It is, to me, the only logical conclusion that can be reached from this starting point. But even if they don’t get any further on that road, at the very least, it seems to me that their stories help to undermine the whole ethos of “kids as lifestyle accessories” and the rampant individualism that underpins this view of children.