Human Exceptionalism

“Politically Correct Eugenics”

As promised, I have a piece in this week’s Weekly Standard about the laudable legislation authored by Senators Kennedy and Brownback to reduce the number of eugenic abortions and post birth cut offs of medical treatment (first discussed at SHS here) by ensuring that parents receive accurate and nondirective information about the prospects of their children with genetic disabilities. From my article:

It is a bitter irony that even as we are enlarging our commitment to human equality in many areas, we are turning our backs on it in others. In particular, we may be about to eliminate from our society people with Down syndrome (DS) and other genetically caused disabilities.

With the development of prenatal genetic diagnosis, the drive toward eugenics has returned with a vengeance. Americans may heartily cheer participants in the Special Olympics, but we abort some 90 percent of all gestating infants diagnosed with genetic disabilities such as DS, dwarfism, and spina bifida. Not only that, but a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2005 found that of the approximately 5,000 babies born with DS annually, only about 625 were born to mothers who knew of their baby’s condition before birth. Together, these figures suggest that under the regimen of universal prenatal genetic testing urged upon us by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the number of DS babies born each year could plummet below 1,000.


I point out that Kennedy and Brownback are the strangest of political bedfellows, and how a study showed that 23% of mothers of babies with Down said that the counseling they received after prenatal genetic testing was either negative or pushed the abortion option. And then I illustrate how the “Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act” might work were it to become law:

The case of cystic fibrosis is suggestive. After a prenatal genetic test was recently developed to detect this disease, the number of CF live births in Massachusetts plunged by about 50 percent. No one knows why–no studies have been done. But if this drop is due to eugenic abortion, perhaps some of these children would have been carried to term if their parents had been required to be informed that great progress is being made and CF is no longer a certain early childhood death sentence.

I quote the Times of London columnist on the joys of parenting his Down syndrome son (covered here at SHS), and conclude:

A famous columnist once opined that only people who have the “moral authority” earned by hard experience should express opinions about such difficult matters. What Kennedy and Brownback hope to provide to parents of genetically disabled babies is the legal assurance that they will be provided information that is complete and informed–rather than counseling tainted by prejudice, ignorance, or fear. The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act may have a clunky name, but it is a noble and practical bill that deserves the support not only of those ideological opposites Kennedy and Brownback–but also of everybody in between.