Abortion,  Bioethics,  Catholics Do What?,  Culture of Death,  euthanasia,  Parenting,  Pro Life

Eradicating people, not disease

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines that Iceland is on track to “virtually eliminate Down Syndrome,” having achieved a close to 98% success rate in preventing DS fetuses from coming to term.

The energy and enthusiasm with which this is being reported belongs to a cancer-research breakthrough, not to what essentially amounts to a successfully-executed eugenics campaign. Make no mistake, advancements have not been made in ameliorating the negative effects of Trisomy 21 on human beings suffering from said condition, but rather, in the field of prenatal diagnosis and the dissemination of information to expectant women on the likelihood of their fetuses being “defective:”

“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.”

Maybe Icelanders are just particularly harsh? I mean, they do have some long, dark winters up there. But wait, there’s more:

“Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. 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.”

Let’s explore an analogy here. Suppose we are able to craft foolproof, super-effective predictive prenatal testing that determines with near 100% accuracy whether or not your child will get cancer and whether that cancer will be a fatal, particularly virulent form that will end in certain death.

Perhaps they’ll survive infancy but succumb to leukemia  in toddlerhood. Perhaps a sarcoma will claim them in the tween years. Maybe they’ll  make it to their early 20s, but then carcinoma takes them down. Imagine, for a moment, the medical community rejoicing in this innovative predictive technique, exclaiming that now at last we have defeated the big C. Cancer-free fetuses can be virtually guaranteed, provided the little tykes still make good lifestyle choices and don’t smoke.

Do we rejoice? Has a disease truly been defeated, in this scenario? Are kids who are genetically doomed to cancer better off being aborted before their parents have a chance to bond with “defective” babies who will only end up breaking their hearts by dying young? Is the greater community served by not having to bear the brunt of their medical costs and the resource-draining care they will require?

It’s a little more shocking put in those terms, isn’t it?

We ought to be shocked. We ought to be mortally offended, in fact, by the suggestion that a nation claims to have nearly “eradicated Down Syndrome” when in fact they’ve just gotten really, really good at pushing prenatal testing and recommending  selective termination of “undesirable” outcomes of conception.

Look, no parent gets any real choice in terms of how their kid turns out, health wise or otherwise.

Little Johnny may grow up to be a serial killer through no fault of his mother or father. Sarah might drop out of college and burn out on weed and work in an auto parts shop and get divorced at 29 and never buy a home. Isaac might win a Nobel Prize and negotiate lasting peace in the Middle East. Any given child might be a human being, in other words: wildly unpredictable and beyond the grasp of foolproof human manipulation.

And guess what? That’s the way it was designed.

Look how profoundly God’s first two children screwed things up. There is surely no clearer precedent for not being fully in control of one’s offspring’s destiny, from time immemorial.

And speaking of destiny and screwing up, who are we to say what “quality of life” really means?

Would a child destined for death by leukemia at age 7 be better off dead rather than being born only to suffer and die? Does a kid with DS have less inherent value than a typically-developing kid, or experience an impoverished version of reality simply because he has 3 chromosomes in a location where most of us have only two?

This is a dangerous path we’re treading down. Dangerous for what it signifies in terms of worth, value, and human rights, and dangerous for what it says about a society willing to blithely accept the lie that only certain “kinds” of human persons are valuable, are acceptable, are worth having around.

Look where that kind of thinking is getting us in our political and cultural landscape here at home in the US.

But, but, that’s totally different! Racism is a whole different disgusting animal apart from prenatal screening and selective termination. You can’t compare the two.

Can’t I? Isn’t there a common thread running through both philosophies, that certain people are less suited to live with the rest of us, that certain people are worth more or less than other types?

If we think that we can live in a civilized, post-racial society and at the same time celebrate the willful eradication of a certain “kind” of people, we are fooling ourselves.

Until we embrace the value of every human life: frail, fallible, weak, unwanted, unreliable and ultimately straight up mortal, same as the rest of us….we will continue to reap the whirlwind of violence and social unrest.


  • Lauren Karl

    Hi, Jenny. I read that very article last night and was flabbergasted and angry, particularly at the same error that you pointed out: Down Syndrome isn’t disappearing in Iceland; the people who have it are. But then, at the end of the article, I was surprused to discover that in Iceland, in the midst of this eugenics horror, there is a clear understanding that they are ending a life. They mention counselor’s giving patients prayer cards with tiny feet on them, bringing a priest in, and saying a prayer before the abortion. This is surreal to me, and while I can never get behind this deliberate attempt to engineer a perfect society (Hitler, anyone?), I finished the article thinking that in that regard, they are ahead of the United States. American pro-choicers would eat their feet before they would acknowledge that a life was being terminated and summon any kind of sentiment, let alone prayer. It’s an odd juxtaposition, I think.

    • Sonia Klugmann

      I find that so tragic.

      Europe hasn’t gone too far from the Hitler mentality, telling you from Germany.

      I’ ve read a post recently (sadly in german), where a woman told her story about aborting her baby at 20th weeks after that screentest and guess what? The baby was healthy!!! She wrote terrible details too, how after taking a pill, which caused miscarriage, fetus came and lived for two hours. If that’s not a murder, I don’t know what is. When I read secular blogs, mostly want to cry and scream after their stories and how easily they get rid of the precious souls :-/

      As for the icelandic abortion with priest’s permission and all, I find it ironic and disgusting really. What do you mean? Praying and then go killing a human soul? What kind of god do they believe in?

      • Lauren Karl

        Sonia, I had the same question –wondering what kind of priest they were referring to. Maybe it wasn’t a Catholic priest? I’m really not sure. It’s just what the article said. It’s a tragedy all around. We need to keep praying for a conversion of hearts!

        • Leocea

          Hmm. If the abortion was scheduled and the priest couldn’t change her mind, would praying be bad?
          A baptism of intent or such would at least protect the baby’s soul? What a terrible spot for a priest to be in!!

  • Cate

    As a mother of a son who has Down’s I believe Satan has a particular hatred for these people. He is certainly keen to prompt us to eliminate them. Why is that? My son has something about him.Something I don’t have and something I want.Can’t explain it more fully.
    I always say if you want to see some of the mystery of God then look at what the Devil hates.

  • jeanette

    Good topic to discuss, Jenny. It is such a routine part of prenatal care, and women should be warned against pressure to abort based on the test outcome, or being guilt-tripped by medical personnel for choosing not to abort.

    The possibility of error in screening tests is a reality. We have friends who had that happen and didn’t abort…and their daughter did not have DS when born, but they were prepared for that possibility. So aside from the whole immorality of deciding a person with DS is not worthy of life, the test itself is not a guarantee of anything. The offering of the test is nothing more than a scare tactic to manipulate women, turning joy into sadness or fear. It says: be afraid of that baby you are carrying, you may have to do something out of the ordinary to parent your child. Really? And that is a problem? The real problem here is that parenting is not seen as a relationship based on generous love.

    You have to wonder, culturally, what people are actually being taught to bring to the table in terms of parental love: “If you are perfect, I can love you.” Not sure I’d want to be raised by those parents. I think I’d want the ones who see the mystery and wonder in the unfolding life of their child, and love them in all of their uniqueness, and whatever joys or sorrows that entails. I’d want the parents who have the capacity to grow from the challenges that parenting involves and can rise to the occasion when a difficulty presents itself.

    Maybe the real screening test should be one that evaluates a parent’s motive for becoming a parent. Maybe the real screening test is the measure of love one is willing to apply to the relationship. And if you find that there is a problem in their willingness to accept the difficulties that may lie ahead, you don’t eliminate the possibility of becoming a parent. You instead show them the path to genuine love. So, yeah, go ahead and test for DS. But make the outcome one of education, not elimination; one of support and encouragement, not one of manipulation.

  • Katarzyna

    I truly agree about what you have said. It is very disappointing how little value is being placed over life of frail and small in our world- here in Europe even less than in the US (it is at least my perception). As a medical doctor I am convinced that genetic testing itself is a good thing in terms of preparing the right place to give birth to the baby (to help it as much as possible once it is born), to consider prenatal care (some operations or medicaments administration are already possible in utero), to help the parents come to terms with the fact that taking care of their child will be more demanding than anticipated. It is definitely not a tool to decide which life is worth or unworth living or loving, because every life is.

  • Helena Q.

    Very familiar in the views and teachings of the Catholic Church, I am against abortion in that it is the killing of an innocent child with a soul created in the image and likeness of God. Said child was not only given a unique purpose to fulfill on Earth in occordance with His plan, but also should be given the dignity of human rights promised by the Constitution. Sadly though, I find it extremely difficult to defend abortion if the religious standpoint is taken away. An embryo is at its core a mass of cells incapable of thinking or feeling. While you could argue that it has a soul and is a Child of God, this cannot be proven to those who do not withhold similar religious beliefs. I guess what I’m trying to say is what defense really is there for being against abortions that is not religiously based?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *