Patterico's Pontifications


Iceland’s Darkness: Eradicating Down Syndrome From Their Society

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:39 pm

[guest post by Dana]

A long while back, I was strolling through a Disney Store during my lunch hour, and a young man turned and hugged me. Out of the blue. This perfect stranger with a big smile on his face then told me he loved me. I was so startled that I just stood there confused. In a moment, an older couple rushed over and gently pulled the young man away. They apologized to me for their son’s burst of affection, and explained that their son was an “exceptional hugger”. Why, yes, I could see that! Their son had Down syndrome. He loved everyone. Including lucky me. I had a pleasant conversation with the couple, and then said good-bye. I felt happy. It certainly wasn’t one of those Big Deal moments in life, but rather a small, quiet one. It was the kind that sneaks up on you, and you just know something pure and sweet just shot through the universe, momentarily cutting through the misery, and you just happen to be there, in the right place at the right time, to catch that shot of love and tuck it away in your heart.

That happy run-in came to mind when I read about Iceland’s near-eradication of Downs syndrome births. As if this modern-marvel of eugenics was something to cheer about:

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, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik.

Using an ultrasound, blood test and the mother’s age, the test, called the Combination Test, determines whether the fetus will have a chromosome abnormality, the most common of which results in Down syndrome. Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues. Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.

With a population of around 330,000, Iceland has on average just one or two children born with Down syndrome per year, sometimes after their parents received inaccurate test results.

And while Iceland is witnessing Down syndrome children disappear from their landscape of life, I was shocked to read the statistics about such “termination rates” in other “civilized,” first-world nations:

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.

Geneticist Kari Stefansson offers his thoughts on his nation’s “progress,” observing that this is not just a medical decision being made. But if not medical, what? Something… moral? :

“My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society — that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore,” he said.

Quijano asked Stefansson, “What does the 100 percent termination rate, you think, reflect about Icelandic society?”

“It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling,” he said. “And I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable. … You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

Stefansson noted, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”

Of course this compels one to ask, indeed, where does it end? And who gets to play God and decide how far is too far? But seemingly, for the vast majority of the people in Iceland, this quest to eradicate Downs syndrome births children has little to do with morality. At least that’s what they tell themselves. Consider counselor Helga Sol Olafsdottir, whom women turn to when discussing what they should do when they are informed that a chromosomal abnormality has been discovered:

Olafsdottir tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.”

She showed Quijano a prayer card inscribed with the date and tiny footprints of a fetus that was terminated.

Quijano noted, “In America, I think some people would be confused about people calling this ‘our child,’ saying a prayer or saying goodbye or having a priest come in — because to them abortion is murder.”

Olafsdottir responded, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”

Eliminating the existence of Down syndrome births, hence babies, children and adults is the natural outcome of such a rationalization. If it isn’t seen as the engineered murder of one deemed less than acceptable, and seen only as a “possible life,” and an imperfect one at that, then it becomes quite easy to kill.

I once spent a short, precious amount of time in the presence of a lovely couple who unexpectedly found themselves thrust into one of those gray areas of which Olafsdottir speaks, and yet they didn’t hesitate to choose life. They did so because they believed that the unique individual the wife carried was fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they had been specifically chosen to provide the necessary arms of love to hold, the tender hearts to nurture, and the courage required for the special baby she carried. The reward of their chosen “suffering,” they would insist to Olafsdottir, was to experience a joy so profound that they never looked back with regret at choosing to bring that which was deemed imperfect into this world and into their lives. Because in his own unique way, their son brought a different kind of perfect to them: the kind that is seen in big, wide-open bursts of love offered to strangers.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


Economic Trumpism: Kurt Schlichter’s Plan to Regulate Google Into Submission

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:30 am

At, Kurt Schlichter has a piece titled Conservatives Must Regulate Google And All of Silicon Valley Into Submission. The piece captures the spirit of Trumpism admirably, by turning a company’s ability to engage in free enterprise into a privilege that can and should be withheld when the company does something to tick off someone in power.

What follows is a respectful fisking of Schlichter’s piece. (No, not a fisting. I said “fisking.”)

Schlichter starts by citing the actions of Google in firing James Damore — a firing that most conservatives agree (I think) was wrong:

Google’s fascist witch-burning of an honest engineer for refusing to bow down at the altar of politically correct lies was the final straw, an unequivocal warning to conservatives that there’s a new set of rules, and that we need to play by them. First they came for the tech geeks; we’re next. That means Republicans at both the federal and the state level need to rein in the skinny-jeaned fascist social justice warriors who control Silicon Valley – and, to a growing extent, our society – through the kind of crushing regulation of these private business that we conservatives used to oppose.

What sort of regulation does Schlichter have in mind? Well, the specific nature of the regulation is almost beside the point, actually. Schlichter’s central argument here is: we have government power and we should use it against these tech companies because they are leftists. As always, when people on the right propose doing something immoral, the justification offered is: the left did it first!

Yeah, I know that heavily regulating private businesses is not “free enterprise,” but I don’t care. See, “free enterprise” is a bargain, and they didn’t keep their part of it, and I see no moral obligation for us to be played for saps and forgo using our political power to protect our interests in the face of them using theirs to disembowel us. I liked the old rules better – a free enterprise system confers huge benefits – but it was the left that chose to nuke them.

If I wanted to distill economic Trumpism to a single phrase, I could not do better than: “This is not free enterprise, but I don’t care.” It is Trump’s answer to companies that threaten to lower their costs (and thus prices to consumers) by moving portions of their operations overseas. It is Trump’s answer to foreign countries who provide cheap and plentiful goods to our citizens. The hidden assumption here is that the companies are the principal actors that benefit from free enterprise.

The assumption is false, though. The primary beneficiaries of free enterprise are consumers. We don’t reject socialism primarily because it hurts companies. We reject socialism because it is ruinous to the consumer. It makes the average person’s life far worse. And capitalism makes the average person’s life better.

Schlichter’s suggested retaliatory act #1 is to break up the companies because they’re “too darn big.” The idea of threatening to use antitrust laws to break up a company because you don’t like its political message is, of course, not new with Schlichter. President Trump himself has threatened to do the same to Amazon as retaliation for things said about him in the Washington Post. But monopolies are good — as long as they are formed through free enterprise, and not through government privilege. If you don’t understand this, I won’t convince you in a short blog post. It requires a more extensive discussion of the nature of free enterprise and consumer choice. You can start your education by clicking the link just provided and reading Leonard Read on the subject.

Let’s move on to Schlichter’s suggested retaliatory act #2:

[W]e need legislation – at both the federal and individual red state levels – that will impose staggering, gut-wrenching monetary penalties for not only the active misuse of this information, but even for the mere failure to safeguard it – any failure to safeguard it. If the info gets out, Google gets slammed – hard. Call it the Citizens’ Data Protection Act – gosh, who could oppose protecting citizens’ data? – and impose huge civil and even criminal penalties for any disclosure of private information about a private citizen. Yes, that’s a strict liability standard – if a citizen’s information gets out for any reason, Google pays through the nose regardless of fault. Now there’s an incentive to make sure our data is secure.

Holy unintended consequences, Batman! As with the rest of the piece, I’m not 100% sure if Schlichter is actually serious or not. But if he is, his piece does not take into account the likely reaction of any tech company facing such a regulation, and how that would affect us. Would you provide an email service if this rule existed, making possible ruinous sanctions against your company? No, you wouldn’t. If such a rule were promulgated, say goodbye to email. At a minimum, email would become so expensive and burdensome to use that most people would go back to snail mail, which would be a body blow to the economy.

Also from the “unintended consequences” pile comes this idea:

[H]ow about the Algorithm Transparency Act, a law that bans these big Internet companies from putting their fingers on the scale of discourse and requires them to make available online all of their operating algorithms?

Do I really have to explain the incentive-smashing character of this proposed regulation? Or what it would do to your daily life if companies faced such a regulation? Incentives matter. Take away a company’s incentive to do any act, and the company will not do that act. And the algorithms Schlichter is citing here make all our lives better in countless ways that we have come to take for granted. We assume companies will continue to work to improve our lives.

Not if we try to ruin them because we don’t like their politics.

Again, perhaps the column is meant as pure “let’s smash the left” entertainment, and Schlichter doesn’t really mean any of it. The problem is, Trump’s protectionism and proposed retaliation against companies is no joke — and people still seem to support it. So, joke or no, it pays dividends to actually stop and think about the effect that the regulations proposed in this column would have.

If you don’t like the politics of Google or Facebook, don’t threaten them with government power. Go start a competitor with more conservative politics. And don’t whine about how that’s impossible. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t whine about how IBM was a behemoth that could never be supplanted. They just went out and created companies that supplanted it.

Go and do likewise, gents. The money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

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