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18.1.09

To Abort or Not to Abort?

I've read a few places that 80% of foetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. This figure horrifies me because:

1. of the implicit cultural priority of neurotypicality
2. abortions are never cause for a party
3. I don't have such an attachment to giving birth myself - I don't see the point in carrying a child if you're just going to abort it if it isn't "what you want" - I'd just adopt if I wasn't comfortable enough with my odds of having a healthy child
4. I have worked with children with Down's, and indeed those with many "special needs" (ah - a phrase that should be the subject of another post) who were: funny, bright, loving, compassionate, etc. etc. etc.
5. I think parents are selfish. Well okay - not ALL parents. And not ALL the time. But I wanted to get your attention.

In my field, there is a lot (a LOT) of talk about supporting parents and families. We focus on strengthening and empowering parents, pretty much at all costs. There are those who say that it is actually the parents, and not the children, who are our clients. This perspective is practical, useful, sensible - teachers are on the front lines. Ours is not a position of prediction and prevention; we go into class each day and deal with the fact that Johnny bit Sally. Our time frame is right now, and right now we have kids in our classes, and they have families that will be with them long after us. Our concern is dealing with what IS, not what is BEST.

But that doesn't mean we don't think about it. Okay - so Johnny bit Sally. I am telling you - it's probably due to the same reason he's always late for school and often has a runny nose: Maybe Johnny's mom shouldn't have freakin' had another kid. And I'm not just talking about lower-income, high-birth-rate populations. Actually, all of my jobs have been in middle-to-upper-middle-class areas. People - parents - think it is a right, to have children. That is just as much true as this: it is a responsibility to have children.

These things are both true - both equally true. But many people feel one way more strongly than the other, and this attitude leads to some moral dilemmas. If you think that having a child is a right, what else do you think you "should" have when it comes to children? Do you think your child should be good at sports? So would you force.... I mean... encourage your child to stay on a sports team even when they protest vociferously? Will you reject your child if they aren't attracted to the right gender? You may contest that these things cross a line - that you can have reasonable expectations of your children (they will be physically fit) and also let them be themselves (my son takes ballet classes).

I contend that you begin to draw that line when you choose to have a child and, when you conceive, you decide to have screening done for things like Down Syndrome. I think that starting to draw the line there is a dangerous, dangerous thing. It is drawing the line at "I want my child to fit in to my society and culture easily." "I don't want to deal with large medical expenses." "I want this to be easy." These sentiments are very easy to understand. Everyone wants these things. But life happens to everyone, anyway. Your child dies at 13. They are in a terrible car accident at 15 and severely brain damaged. You learn they have autism and slowly realize they will never love you the way you want to be loved. They become an addict and throw their life away, homeless by 21 and overdosed by 29.

Expectations are normal. They are human. But if we predicate our love on them then we have already done those we love a grave disservice. And it is our responsibility to give our children the very best love we can.

1 comment:

Jacob Aziza said...

"Maybe Johnny's mom shouldn't have freakin' had another kid"
- I couldn't agree more that having children should not be a right. It seems kind of strange that you would mention this in the context of objecting to abortion.

On that first topic, perhaps that 80% of parents aren't all doing it to avoid the trials of raising a special needs child. Maybe most of them are doing it to spare their child the difficulties of being special needs. A loving parent wants to give their child every possible advantage, and not having developmental disorders would certainly be a big one.
I think what you point out about where to draw the line and that there will always be risks are both valid points, but I don't think its fair to claim prenatal screenings are indicative of selfishness.

No one would find it objectionable to have a preconception physical and then make decisions based on the results. Many people don't consider an embryo to be a person, in which case I don't see how a prenatal screening is much different than that. Really, its just an extension of the abortion debate - where do we draw the line between "human" and "potential human". It will never be answered.