The New Eugenics
By the year 2030, Denmark will become Down syndrome-free. If this happens, the landmark elimination of this minority group will be due to the introduction of a national prenatal testing program in 2004. The number of DS births halved in 2005 and has dropped by 13 percent every year since then. Niels Uldbjerg, professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of Aarhus, told the Copenhagen Post that this is a “tremendously great accomplishment.”
But is it? Or is it a form of latter-day eugenics?
Although the United States is far bigger and more diverse than Denmark, the development of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) could make Down syndrome births a rarity there as well. Normally, they account for about one birth in 691. But when statistics show that when pregnant women are diagnosed with a DS child, as many as 90 percent terminate it. . .
The article continues,
In many countries, prenatal testing for DS is funded by taxpayers. Governments justify funding prenatal testing based on a claimed benefit that fewer children with Down syndrome mean more healthcare dollars for other people. Not surprisingly, because the patient does not have to pay the cost, there are more tests and more terminations.
Supporters of public funding argue that it is cheaper to offer subsidized prenatal testing and abortions than to pay the medical bills of a child with Down syndrome. Governments, therefore, are involved in a program intended to reduce the number of lives with DS. The new eugenics looks a lot like the old eugenics.
It seems that abortion is being used as a means to select the kind of children we want to raise. Along with the above statistics, consider Sunita Puri’s article “I Know It’s a Girl, and I Need Your Help To Get It Out of Me” (Slate August, 2, 2011). Puri notes the growing trend to use abortions as a means to select the sex of a baby. She writes,
The reasons American women undergo them are complex, from situations that don’t seem particularly troubling (the upper-middle-class woman who wants a daughter to “balance out” her three boys) to those that are deeply concerning (the immigrant woman who wants a son to avoid emotional abuse by her in-laws).
Consider also the recently UK statistics, which were released a few months ago indicating that between 2002 and 2010 26 babies were aborted for having a cleft lip or palate, a condition that can be easily remedied with surgery. Hilary White of Life Site News (July 21, 2011) reports on the statistics:
In total, nearly 18,000 babies were aborted between 2002 and 2010 on the grounds of suspected disability. 1,189 were killed after the upper legal gestational age limit of 24 weeks. The figures show that these include 482 killed for Down’s syndrome in 2010 alone. In the same year, 181 abortions were attributed to musculoskeletal problems such as club foot, while 189 unborn children killed for anencephaly and 128 for spina bifida.
In consider whether we ought to choose who should live and who should die, I am reminded of the wisdom of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.
‘But this is terrible cried Frodo. ‘Far worse than the worst thing I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature , when he had the chance!’
‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.’
‘I’m sorry’ said Frodo, ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’
‘You have not seen him.’ Gandalf broke in.
‘No, and I don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as any Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’
‘Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bond up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many–yours not the least. . . (66-67).1
We do not see all ends, nor should we be so willing to deal death in judgment. For I suspect that our fate is bound up with how we treat the least among us, the innocent, and the most defenseless.
1J.R.R. Tolkien. 1994. The Fellowship of the Ring: Beginning the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. New York: Ballantine Books.