Monday, February 19, 2007


(Each "Question of the Week," an idea which I gleaned from A Republic If You Can Keep It, will remain toward the top of the blog until the next question appears. The previous Questions of the Week are HERE. Please scroll down for recent postings)

Recently, George F. Will wrote a moving essay about Jon, a Down-Syndrome adult who frequents sports events in the D.C. area.

I read Mr. Will's essay with interest for many reasons, among them the following:

(1) I know several individuals, adults and children, with Down Syndrome; and (2) some two decades ago, one mother of a Down-Syndrome child, told me that, if genetic screening had been available when she was pregnant, she'd have aborted her son because, despite all the family's devotion to the boy, the financial and social effects of having such a child devastated the family. This woman, who gave birth to her son while she was still in her twenties, is one of few mothers of retarded children to take that position with me; most mothers of retarded children have told me otherwise.

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Will's essay "Golly, What Did Jon Do?" (emphases mine):
What did Jon Will and the more than 350,000 American citizens like him do to tick off the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists? It seems to want to help eliminate from America almost all of a category of citizens, a category that includes Jon.

Born in 1972, Jon has Down syndrome. That is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect that causes varying degrees of mental retardation and some physical abnormalities, such as low muscle tone, small stature, a single crease across the center of the palms, flatness of the back of the head and an upward slant to the eyes (when Jon was born, Down syndrome people were still commonly called Mongoloids). There also is increased risk of congenital heart defects, childhood leukemia and Alzheimer's disease. Down syndrome, although not common, is among the most common congenital anomalies—47.9 per 100,000 births (compared with 77.7 with cleft lips or palates, which also can be diagnosed in utero, and which sometimes result in abortions).


The ACOG guidelines are formally neutral concerning what decisions parents should make on the basis of the information offered. But what is antiseptically called "screening" for Down syndrome is, much more often than not, a search-and-destroy mission: At least 85 percent of pregnancies in which Down syndrome is diagnosed are ended by abortions.

Medicine now has astonishing and multiplying abilities to treat problems of unborn children in utero, but it has no ability to do anything about Down syndrome (the result of an extra 21st chromosome). So diagnosing Down syndrome can have only the purpose of enabling—and, in a clinically neutral way, of encouraging—parents to choose to reject people like Jon as unworthy of life. And as more is learned about genetic components of other abnormalities, search-and-destroy missions will multiply.


Jon has a disability, but he also has some things most men would like to have—season tickets for Nationals and Orioles baseball, Redskins football, Capitals hockey and Georgetown University basketball. He gets to and from games (and to his work three days a week for the Nationals at RFK Stadium) by himself, taking public transportation to and from his apartment.

Jon experiences life's three elemental enjoyments—loving, being loved and ESPN. For Jon, as for most normal American males, the rest of life is details.
Read all of Mr. Will's essay.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK, in two parts:
(1) Is "genetic testing" a euphemism for a socially acceptable form of eugenics which is tacitly being promoted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists?
(2) What, if anything, constitutes a disability serious enough to warrant termination of a pregnancy?


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posted by Always On Watch @ 2/19/2007 07:20:00 PM