[guest post by Dana]
In what has been described as a “courageous column,” Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post has written that had she discovered she was carrying a baby with Down syndrome, she would have had an abortion. Marcus, who identifies herself at her Twitter feed as the mother of two high-quality individuals, argues that the recent surge in laws being drafted to protect babies with Down syndrome from being aborted are unconstitutional, unenforceable — and wrong. She attempts to justify the righteousness of her stance by her own willingness to kill that which she would consider low-quality:
I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.
And I am not alone. More than two-thirds of American women choose abortion in such circumstances. Isn’t that the point — or at least inherent in the point — of prenatal testing in the first place?.
I respect — I admire — families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives. Certainly, to be a parent is to take the risks that accompany parenting; you love your child for who she is, not what you want her to be.
But accepting that essential truth is different from compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment, meaning an IQ between 55 and 70 (mild) or between 35 and 55 (moderate). This means limited capacity for independent living and financial security; Down syndrome is life-altering for the entire family.
So, to use Marcus’s standards and reasoning, babies in the womb found not to have immediate limited intellectual capacity or cognitive impairment, should not be aborted but be allowed to live.
While this mother of two high-quality individuals says she would grieve the loss of aborting a baby with Down syndrome, one has to wonder why, given their obvious failure to meet her stated standards of acceptability. In laying her cards on the table and ghoulishly confirming her view that only high-quality individuals need apply for membership in her family, I would think relief would more aptly describe her response to said abortion.
In her rationalization, Marcus unintentionally points out a grimly reality: these unique individuals, with their limited intellectual capabilities, would be, unlike her, unable to advocate for killing those deemed less than perfect – like themselves.
In breaking down her rationale, we see that she believes it’s a terrible thing that these individuals, if allowed to live, would have limited life choices. Raise your hand if you don’t have limitations in your life choices. We all do. And what a tragedy that their IQ’s wouldn’t be as high as Marcus’s, because then they too could feel some sort of perverse moral and intellectual superiority in declaring that human life has no intrinsic value in and of itself. It is conditional. And as for a limited capacity to be able to live independently and be financially secure, this presumes that everyone else is like Marcus: not compelled by love to provide and care for these individuals, in one way or another. Does she believe that these families would do anything less for their children than would she for her own two high-quality individuals? Moreover, would Marcus advocate death for the elderly living on small pensions in assisted living homes, or for those for whom tragedy befalls, rendering them unable to care care for themselves? Should they be put down? What would happen if one of her own high-quality individuals tragically ended up in a wheelchair and with a loss of brain function? Should they then be done away with because their unfortunate circumstances have now become a life-altering inconvenience for the entire family? Because from where I stand, no matter who it is that is born, they will forever alter the family into which they are welcomed. It will never be the unit it once was, and to most of us that is the very fulfilling definition of “family”. It is a rich and rewarding alteration, replete with pain and sorrow, joy and love, and with varying degrees of challenge. But while Marcus and her ilk see this as little more than an unwelcome inconvenience, untold families understand that this “inconvenience” comes with a unique, built-in opportunity to love, nurture and be blessed in ways unimaginable. It’s ironic that Marcus and her high IQ and full cognition fails to understand that quality of life is not wholly determined by one’s physical and mental limitations.
Marcus then goes on to publicly confess her own limited capacity to love, justifying it with a childish mentality:
I’m going to be blunt here: That was not the child I wanted. That was not the choice I would have made. You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women* confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision.
Great, because everybody’s doing it makes it morally right, eh? It is simply abhorrent thinking that quality of life is being determined by how much of an inconvenience one brings to their family. If you’re not going to be too big of a pain in the ass, I’ll let you live. And because any number of equally hard-hearted women feel likewise, the killing of innocents is justified. Everybody’s doing it.
With that, Marc A. Thiessen ponders when the killing of individuals with Down syndrome will stop. Accurately pointing out that there will always be those who see people with Down syndrome as nothing more than a burden on society, Thiessen draws our attention to Frank Stephens, a man with Down syndrome who told members of Congress:
“I am a man with Down syndrome, and my life is worth living.” Noting the abortion rates for Down syndrome babies in Europe, he declared, “I completely understand that the people pushing this particular ‘final solution’ are saying that people like me should not exist,” but pleaded, “Let’s be America, not Iceland or Denmark. . . . Let’s pursue inclusion, not termination.”
Contrary to Marcus’s morbid doom and gloom efforts to diminish the quality of life for individuals born with Down syndrome:
A 2011 study by Harvard University researchers found that rather than leading lives of suffering, people with Down syndrome have unusually high rates of happiness. An amazing 99 percent said they are happy with their lives, 97 percent like who they are, and 96 percent like how they look. “Overall, the overwhelming majority of people with Down syndrome surveyed indicate they live happy and fulfilling lives,” the researchers found.
Surveys from Boston Children’s Hospital found that far from being a burden on their families, children with Down syndrome bring enormous joy to their loved ones. Ninety-four percent of siblings expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome, and 88 percent said that they were better people because of them. Only 4 percent would trade their sibling in for another, and only 4 percent of parents regretted having their Down syndrome child. It turns out, the hospital concluded, that “the experience of Down syndrome is a positive one for most parents, siblings and people with Down syndrome themselves.”
All lives matter, and when that life comes with an extra chromosome and an enormous capacity to make those around them better people, how much more should we fight to protect them so they might brightly shine in this lost and dying world.
(*Marcus claims the number is 67%.)
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)