Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NYT on Prenatal Testing for Down Syndrome, and Commentary

Today's New York Times contains this article on prenatal testing for Down syndrome. A key passage:

Until this year, only pregnant women 35 and older were routinely tested to see if their fetuses had the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. As a result many couples were given the diagnosis only at birth. But under a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a new, safer screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age.

About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.

Convinced that more couples would choose to continue their pregnancies if they better appreciated what it meant to raise a child with Down syndrome, a growing group of parents are seeking to insert their own positive perspectives into a decision often dominated by daunting medical statistics and doctors who feel obligated to describe the difficulties of life with a disabled child.

Ann Althouse comments:

In the future, it seems, anyone taking care of a child with Down syndrome will be viewed as a saint... or, perhaps, misguided and foolish.
Dana Goldstein comments:

As anyone who's had their life enriched by a loved one with a disability can attest, these conversations are incredibly fraught. But without judging any family's choice to either end or continue such a pregnancy, the issues remain the same -- the right to choose an abortion and the freedom from coercive pressure. Expectant parents should be given information, resources, and support as they make these complex choices. But expect the antis to boil this issue down into a talking point and portray pro-choicers as mad scientists trying to genetically manipulate the human race.

I discussed some of these issues, and the problems they present for people like me who favor both disability rights and abortion rights, in this piece. There are a bunch of competing considerations here. When women choose to abort after receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome, they often do so on the basis of misperceptions about the lives of people with that condition. Those misperceptions stem from and feed into a general societal view of people with disabilities as being less than fully worthy citizens. From a disability rights perspective, those are big problems. In principle, it makes sense that pregnant women whose fetuses have been so diagnosed should receive full information on the point -- that people with Down syndrome can be happy and productive members of a family and a community. But Goldstein is quite right that a strategy of abortion opponents (validated by the Supreme Court's reasoning in the recent Carhart case) is to pack increasingly burdensome and coercive requirements into the category of "informed consent." Expressed concern about disability rights could easily be used as a way of imposing yet more burdens under that heading. And I don't think disability rights advocates should be so happy with the message expressed by many of the folks who are urging women not to abort fetuses that have been diagnosed with Down syndrome -- a message that is, essentially, that it's really saintly of you to be the parent to a child with that condition. This is a hard issue, and, unfortunately, will be one of the next battlegrounds in the abortion rights wars.



Blogger Jeff said...

I happen to be the father of a son with down syndrome and am always amazed how any discussion about this issue always come down to Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice and Saint hood and all this other crap. From my stand point it is a discussion about information and making educated decesions not the next president, supreme court justice or Roe V Wade.


4:13 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home