Politics & Policy

Defining Life Down

Are we okay with eliminating a class of humans?

The Spine-Chilling Euphemism of the Month Award goes to the Washington Post for its recent front-page headline: “Down Syndrome Now Detectable In 1st Trimester: Earlier Diagnosis Allows More Time for Decisions.”

One “decision” is, of course, whether to terminate the pregnancy–the “A” word (abortion, for those not into subtlety). The less-nuanced, terribly un-P.C., and perhaps you’ll consider downright mean among us might use a k-word. The decision being over whether to kill an innocent child, who is completely dependent on his mother’s choices. Doctors estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of Down children are now aborted once pre-natal tests issue “warnings.”

The Post story was one of a few reports on Down Syndrome to make the pages of that Beltway paper lately. The first notable piece showed up on its op-ed page in mid-October. A former Post reporter, mother of a girl with Down Syndrome, Patricia Bauer, living in the Botoxed state of California wrote:

As Margaret bounces through life, especially out here in the land of the perfect body, I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed. I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her … to be not worth living.

To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake.

I’m sorry but I can’t bring myself to think of anyone as and “avoidable” human being. She’s a girl with special challenges, but she’s a girl, as worthy of life as any of the rest of us with problems and imperfections.

Bauer’s piece, predictably, caused some controversy, judging by the letters the Post wound up publishing. But the most painful, heartbreaking, infuriating response came from an altogether separate opinion piece that showed up in the paper about a month later. The author, Maria Eftimiades, another journalist, defended her choice to abort her baby after learning that he would have Down syndrome. She tells us about her grieving for the child, she throws a hostile shot at abortion opponents, and ends up assuring the reader, unconvincingly: “As for that baby that will never be, I will remember him always. But I’m quite certain that I made the right choice… .”

I know abortion is one of our most contentious issues. People don’t want to judge. They don’t want to put their rosaries on your ovaries. People often just don’t want to talk about it. But we have to talk about it. And we have to especially talk about Down Syndrome and abortion–and this class of people “sophisticated” types seem to think can (and should?) be eliminated. A civilized society cannot tolerate this reality.

As Patricia Bauer put it: “What I don’t understand is how we as a society can tacitly write off a whole group of people as having no value. I’d like to think that it’s time to put that particular piece of baggage on the table and talk about it, but I’m not optimistic. People want what they want: a perfect baby, a perfect life. To which I say: Good luck. Or maybe, dream on.”

That “want[ing] what they want” has chilling eugenic possibilities. If we shrug off a majority of Down kids being aborted now, how far off can deeper cultural inoculation to the impossible quest for reproductive perfection be? It’s a spine-chilling road we’re walking on.

Bauer cites a pediatrician who notices his once-steady stream of Down Syndrome patients has dissipated. Breaking news: No one has found a cure.

You figure it out.

And in denying children with Down Syndrome their lives, parents close themselves off to beautiful blessings. John McGinley, who plays Dr. Perry Cox on the NBC comedy Scrubs, was pretty down to earth about it in an interview last year, “[W]hen you have a child who was born with special needs, it’s very confusing and disconcerting and you really don’t know which end is up and you feel like you’re from Mars and you did something wrong. It turns out that God blessed you with a really special package.”

McGinley’s son, Bauer’s daughter–they are special packages for not just their parents, but for our culture. Their lives have the potential to save us from a Brave New Future that’s not so much a brave world as it is a tragic assembly line, different need not apply.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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