On the New York Times parenting blogs, a mother of a girl with Down Syndrome argues against North Dakota’s new law that outlaws abortion in cases of genetic abnormality. Alison Piepmeier says that “Outlawing Abortion Won’t Help Children with Down Syndrome.” The premise is that parents abort babies with Down Syndrome because their child will face untold challenges. Piepmeier writes about her conversations with women who aborted their children:
Repeatedly women told me that they ended the pregnancy not because they wanted a “perfect child” (as one woman said, “I don’t know what ‘perfect child’ even means”) but because they recognized that the world is a difficult place for people with intellectual disabilities.
One woman told me, “The thing is I could not, in good conscience, from the get-go, know that my child has these setbacks in life.” Another identified adulthood as the challenge: “There is no part of caring for an infant or school-aged child with Down syndrome that we didn’t think we could handle. We chose to terminate mostly on the basis of our understanding of the challenges and quality of life he and our family would face if/when he lived to be over age 21: his middle age, and end of life.”
This thinking is so prevalent in our society, and it is so backward. Instead of improving the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, we choose to kill them instead. And not just some of the time, 90% of the time.
Putting aside the data that shows that 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report being happy, I ask, “How can we improve the lives of those with Down Syndrome enough to not kill them if we keep killing them?” “How will research into improving the cognitive effects of Down Syndrome proceed if there are no patients left to treat?”
This is the same backwards approach to medicine that fuels the euthanasia movement. Instead of controlling the pain of terminal illness, the plan is to kill the patient. I guarantee that the more killing becomes the treatment plan, the less research into end-of-life pain control will advance.
When death is the treatment of choice, all other options fall by the wayside and wither.
Richard Doerflinger, in an address to the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, makes this very point:
“In the Netherlands, Dr.Richard Fenigsen and others report that the spread of euthanasia as a solution to problems at the end of life has produced a generation of doctors who do not know how to diagnose the real problems accurately, let alone understand their appropriate treatments,” said Doerflinger.
“Why would anyone devote himself to the difficult task of easing a patient’s physical pain, anxiety, depression and other problems if there is one infallible solution to every problem – that is, to eliminate the patient?”
And this phenomenon is also appearing in prenatal care:
To take another example, while abortion has been adopted as the de facto “treatment” for any sort of high risk pregnancy, “in cases where the woman rejects abortion, [doctors] no longer know what to do.” This has left a dwindling handful of experts with the skills set necessary to guide women successfully through high risk pregnancies, without deliberately taking the life of their babies.
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I recently went to a presentation on high-risk deliveries at the hospital where I used to work. The presenting doctor admitted that since the rate of C-section has gone up, there are very few doctors who know how to deliver a breach baby without surgery. That particular expertise has been lost.
The same will happen with expertise and resources needed for those with Down Syndrome. The more the “treatment” of choice is death, the less options for those who make it out of the womb will thrive.
In addition, I believe that the continued wide-spread abortion of children with Down Syndrome magnifies an ever-increasing prejudice in our society.
So, I disagree with Ms. Piepmeier. Outlawing abortion will help children with Down Syndrome.
The proper approach to the difficulties faced by those with Down Syndrome and their families to address those difficulties. Killing them in the womb accomplishes nothing and in the long term will hurt the progress in research and limit the resources available. Treat the symptoms. Address the challenges. Don’t kill the patient.