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A much poorer world because of discrimination against babies with Down syndrome

by | Jul 31, 2018

By Dave Andrusko

Yesterday we reposted a very thoughtful story written by Nancy Valko. Nancy wrote eloquently about a post composed by the highly influential bioethicist Arthur Caplan that ran under the headline, “Should It Be Harder to Get Abortions for Down Syndrome Babies?” That commentary appeared on Medscape, a medical news website for health professionals.

Nancy’s own headline spoke volumes: “An ‘Acceptable’ Prejudice,” referring to prejudice against babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Her story was all the more powerful because she truly knew of what she spoke, particularly the slippery slope impact. She wrote

Unfortunately, prenatal discrimination naturally leads to postnatal discrimination as I personally discovered when my husband and I had our daughter Karen who had Down syndrome and a heart defect. We were shocked when the cardiologist gave us the option of refusing cardiac surgery and letting her die despite the excellent chance for survival with surgery.

Although we chose life for our daughter, we later found that Karen was secretly made a “Do not Resuscitate” (DNR) during one hospitalization by our trusted pediatrician who said I was “too emotionally involved with that retarded baby.” Unfortunately, we eventually lost our Karen to complications from pneumonia before her planned surgery.

Over the years Dr. Caplan and I have gone back and forth many times in private correspondence. I shouldn’t, of course, but I feel a genuine sense of failure.

Always pro-abortion, he now extends that to the conclusion of his Medscape piece: “I don’t think our society should tell people what to do when it comes to decisions about ending pregnancies as long as we are talking about fetuses with genetic problems.”

(Caplan’s ending is awkward. He is not saying he supports abortion only in cases of genetic abnormality. Rather he means that this is just another case where “choice” reigns supreme.)

He’s also moved from a kind of neutrality on physician-assisted suicide to embracing it as just another choice. He prefers the term “physician-assisted dying” (which he finds morally permissible) over “physician-assisted suicide” (which he finds –or at least one time found—troubling.

What about the latest barrier to be breached? Assisted suicide because a person is dissatisfied with life, unhappy with their situation, or feel they have “completed” their life. According to WGBH

Medical ethicist Art Caplan says that assisted death for people without a terminal disease raises ethical questions.

“When someone says, ‘I’m lonely or hyper-anxious or I am just too depressed,’ is that the basis for giving someone aid in dying?” he said on “Boston Public Radio” Tuesday. “I don’t think so.”

Caplan says that he doesn’t believe that medical professionals should be helping people who are just upset and unhappy die. “You really got that slippery slope problem opening up,” he said.

What you can easily predict is that in not so short order, Caplan will move from being “troubled” to acceptance. Why? Because he has persuaded himself there is no slippery slope even as Europe flies down—and off—the cliff.

Just a couple of words about Caplan’s post on babies with Down syndrome. He hedges the debate (as he always does) as an example of a “tough issue,” indeed “One of the toughest issues that has been emerging in the highly controversial realm of abortion and the ethical issues raised by elective abortion.”

Caplan talks about the virtual annihilation of children with Down syndrome in Europe and the high percentage of abortions in the United States that can only increase as the technology for detecting babies with Down syndrome grows even more sophisticated.

And then…he does nothing with it.

Caplan’s reflexive bottom line is, “I still believe that parents have the right to choose if they do not want to have a child with a genetic anomaly or genetic condition.”

The next sentence is the clincher, the ultimate justification: “After all, legally, you don’t have to have any reason to decide to end the pregnancy.” (Emphasis added.)

Think about that one for a second. It follows that abortions for sex selection or, as is the case in England, because you discover your unborn baby has an easily repaired cleft palate, or because (someday) prenatal testing tells you the baby will be only of “average” intelligence—any and all are acceptable reasons.

What about at least letting parents know that all is not doom and gloom? While it’s okay “to make sure that people decide [whether to abort] with full and adequate information,” Caplan says, “I don’t favor mandating that information.”

Nancy’s response was perfect:

The world is so much poorer without people like my late daughter Karen who was greatly loved. Prejudice against Down syndrome justified as the legal “right to abortion” is lethal, not “acceptable”.

Women and their families surely deserve both comprehensive information and support when a prenatal diagnosis like Down Syndrome is made.

And every child, born or unborn, deserves a chance for life.

Categories: Down Syndrome