Human Exceptionalism

Treating Down Syndrome Not Eugenics

Scientists have learned how to “turn off” the extra gene that leads to Down syndrome. From the Guardian story:

Scientists have corrected the genetic fault that causes Down’s syndrome– albeit in isolated cells – raising the prospect of a radical therapy for the disorder.

In an elegant series of experiments, US researchers took cells from people with DS and silenced the extra chromosome that causes the condition. A treatment based on the work remains a distant hope, but scientists in the field said the feat was the first major step towards a “chromosome therapy” for Down’s syndrome.

Opponents of human exceptionalism and its corollary–the equal moral worth of all people–often challenge me about Down. I strongly oppose eugenic abortion that is currently taking the lives of 90% of our brothers and sisters with Down. So, they say: “Well, would you treat it if a way was found? And if so, aren’t you saying it is better for the person not to have Down than have it? And if that is true, don’t people with Down have lesser value?”

Yes. Yes. And, emphatically no.

Down is a medical condition, a disability caused by a wrongly working gene. If the gene could be fixed, it would be no different than repairing a severed spinal cord restoring ambulation, or restoring intellectual ability to someone with a brain injury. It would be no different than learning to turn off the gene that causes Huntington’s disease, thereby preventing the disability and death that condition causes.

But by all means, people with those conditions don’t have lesser value. Indeed, they may have a greater claim on our love, time, resources, and treasure to make their lives easier. The problem isn’t them, but a society that increasingly closes its heart to those who need special (and expensive) care. 

 

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