Human Exceptionalism

The Mother of a Down’s Child Takes on the New Eugenics

This is a great column by lawyer Elizabeth R. Schiltz, published in Business Week. The mother of a Down’s child, Schiltz blisters the pressure people like her are put under to abort Down syndrome babies:

“I’ve come to realize that many in the scientific and medical community view me as grossly irresponsible. Indeed, in the words of Bob Edwards, the scientist who facilitated the birth of England’s first test-tube baby, I am a ‘sinner.’ A recent book even branded me a ‘genetic outlaw.’ My transgression? I am one of the dwindling number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and choose not to terminate our pregnancies.”

This is indeed eugenics. Reading Schiltz’ article reminded me of a speech I made to some medical school students a few years ago. It was a critique of personhood theory and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human.

After the speech, a student approached me and said that he was engaged in genetic counseling. What is he supposed to do, he asked, when a woman presents with a diagnosis that she is carrying a Down’s baby. I suggested that perhaps a true counseling would include letting the prospective parents of a Down’s baby meet people who are actually living that experience. They could tell of the great joy and love–as well as the very real difficulties–that come from parenting a developmentally disabled child. That would certainly be better than the pressure to abort that seems to be on the increase in such cases.