By Dave Andrusko
The headline over the op-ed written by the self-described “pro-choice liberal” (married to a “pro-choice liberal” wife) was “Does Down Syndrome Justify Abortion?”
Before I address all the unfortunate and misleading side issues raised by Mark Lawrence Schrad, let me say I am so happy he and his wife pushed aside worst-case scenarios raised by their physician following a prenatal diagnosis that their daughter would have Down syndrome and did not abort. Sophia “is an exuberant 8-year-old, soaking up the last rays of summer fun before entering third grade.”
The impetus for this op-ed are laws that would prohibit abortions from taking place on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis. “In the end” Prof. Schrad and his wife “chose to have Sophia in the face of widespread medical and societal pressures to terminate.”
But for Schrad the operative issue is that the decision whether to abort or not was “our choice.”
He then is off to the races, bashing pro-lifers who, he insists, are merely interested in “curtail[ing] a woman’s right to choose” and Republicans who are heartless, etc., etc., etc.
And, of course, the New York Times ran a follow up feature.
Schrad may have come to the “right” conclusion– that the abortion decision is the woman’s to make–but the Schrads did not abort, which is not the preferred option for the New York Times.
With that in mind, unsurprisingly, the responses it chose to illustrate began with how abortion would have been the “rational choice,” given how much bother their sibling presented to the family.
Another responded, “I have no regrets at all and never have” that her mother, who already had one child with Down syndrome, chose to abort when she learned another baby would have Down syndrome.
Let me make three points.
#1. Schrad and his wife heard a totally skewed, biased presentation from their doctor. It began with a misrepresentation of how likely their child would miscarry and extended into
If our daughter somehow made it to full term, her expected life span would be far shorter than a typical child’s, and she’d most likely have a whole host of medical issues requiring a lifetime of medical care. Then consider the cognitive impairments, special education programs and social ostracism.
It was a lot to take in.
That is why an extraordinarily high percentage of babies who are diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. What they hear is stereotypical and outdated and treats these children as if they were disposable pieces of machinery that can be scrapped.
#2. What do families–and the children themselves–think? As we have reported in NRL News Today, a series of three surveys conducted by doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston painted a very positive picture of the reality of Down syndrome that is overwhelmingly at odds with the negative picture painted for parents when a prenatal diagnosis is made. The results were published in the October 2011 edition of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.
“Among 2,044 parents or guardians surveyed, 79 percent reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome,” wrote Kimberly Hayes Taylor, a contributor to MSNBC.com
Among siblings ages 12 and older, Skotko found “97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome,” Taylor reported. “A third study evaluating how adults with Down syndrome felt about themselves reports 99 percent responded they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they looked.”
#3. Schrad concludes that those who wish to pass legislation to bar what is, after all, lethal discrimination don’t understand the complexities and the fallout if/when such bills become laws. Actually, they do.
They know that overwhelmingly, parents love children who happen to have Down syndrome. Overwhelmingly their siblings do as well. And even more so, children who have Down syndrome are, as Dr. Skotko found out, happy with their lives, who they are, and how they looked.
These children deserve better than to be cast aside because they don’t meet some arbitrary “quality of life.”
They deserve life.