By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. October is Down Syndrome Awareness month. The following, which ran last October, illustrates just how much education is needed.
Even after writing about abortion since the late 1970s, never in my wildest imaginings could I have anticipated such a bizarre confluence of three stories.
Earlier today, I wrote about two of them.
The first was a brave young couple that rather than abort their child when they were told he had a massive brain malformation, chose to nurture the remaining six months of Jenna Gassew’s pregnancy and the few hours she and her husband Dan Healy would have with their son, Shane.
They attempted to make a lifetime of memories for themselves and their baby—a “bucket list” of sightseeing and travel and revisiting Jenna’s and Dan’s favorite places with their unborn son.
Then we have a woman who posts on Reddit an “Open Letter” to the baby whose life she is about to snuff out. Some comment about what a graceful writer she is, ignoring there is nothing graceful about ending a baby’s life because he/she is not coming at the perfect time. It’s more like a very literary treatment of a very seamy decision.
Then we have a story in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, “Aborting my baby Oscar was the kindest thing I could do for him.”
Did baby Oscar have, like Shane, a devastating, lethal anomaly? No, Suzanne Treussard tells us, he had Down syndrome. She and her husband ended his life for several reasons, including “fairness.”
Pardon? “[W]ould it be fair on Delilah [their first child] when inevitably a child with DS would require so much of our attention?”
Let’s double back for a second. Treussard blends expressions of love and affection with a kind of cold-blooded utilitarianism, the former to squelch the nausea you feel at the latter. The following opening is clearly intended to bring you into her corner:
“The overpowering surge of love was exactly the same. The primal, unquestioning adoration and sense of wonder a mother feels when she sees her newborn baby for the first time never dims, no matter what the circumstances.
“My husband Tim and I stared at baby Oscar’s tiny hands, folded on his chest, and marvelled at his button nose — so much like his big sister’s. We adored him in an instant.”
Given the headline, where is this taking us?
“I know many people will find this hard to understand, considering what we had just done. I know others will condemn us — call us heartless and hypocritical even.
“For the tiny baby I’d just given birth to — a much-wanted brother for our daughter Delilah — never took a breath outside my body. We, his parents, chose to end his life before it started.”
But this “much-wanted brother” had flunked the test if for no other reason that caring for him would take too much time away from Deliah. But there’s more. “Terminating” the baby at 15 weeks, three days was also best “for our son.” (It always is.)
And, besides, Oscar was so little:
“His tiny, lifeless body weighed just 49 grams, about the same as a packet of chocolate buttons, and measured 12.6cm long — the size of a ballpoint pen.”
Moreover it’s not like Treussard took this decision casually—or that she hadn’t once thought “that a life was a life and didn’t believe in having a termination for social reasons.” She had!
But that was “Due to lack of personal experience.” That had prevented her from “consider[ing] that sometimes it might be the kindest option when there are foetal abnormalities.”
Remember, depending on the study 70% to 90%+ of all babies prenatal diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. But Treussard tells her readers
“I’m speaking out so publicly now because I want to encourage open discussion about ante-natal testing [prenatal testing] and the gruelling dilemmas and decisions it can bring. The taboo that shrouds it only adds to the angst parents feel.”
Taboo? You mean the “taboo” that gets in the way of aborting what few babies with Down syndrome escape destruction?
But just to stack the deck further, Treussard tells us two things. First, “under the Abortion Act, termination of a baby with Down’s syndrome is a legal right up to the point of delivery.” I guess that is intended to make us grateful she didn’t abort him in the delivery room.
“the test results were conclusive: our baby — a boy — had Down’s syndrome as well as a host of serious health defects including one with his heart which meant he had only a 1 per cent chance of survival. We were warned, even if he was born alive he’d be rushed to a special care baby unit, a very poorly little boy.”
Babies with Down syndrome often have heart defects, most often ones that can be repaired. Is her fear that he wouldn’t survive—or that he would?
When what would have been Oscar’s due date arrived—January 2012– Treussard was already pregnant with their third child (who is now three). She assures us Wilbur was not a replacement baby, but it was also true that “Tim and I still desperately wanted a sibling for Delilah.”
Ponder this carefully:
“When Wilbur was born on August 17, 2012, I scrutinised him for signs of Down’s that the scans might have missed. But gradually I allowed myself to fall in love with my gorgeous new son.”
What if Wilbur did have Down syndrome? How long would her feelings of conditional love last then?
Treussard keeps insisting no one can “judge” her, nor would she judge anyone else who did what they did or chose life. Okay.
But I could not help thinking of Jenna and Dan and how they loved Shane before they knew he had anencephaly, when they found out, and all through Jenna’s pregnancy and the few hours he had with them.
The photos they took of newborn Shane and themselves remind you (as Dan wrote) that “Shane spent his entire life in the arms of people that loved him unconditionally.”
Treussard and her husband took pictures of their baby, too, as
“you would with any newborn. One friend told me recently that she couldn’t understand anyone wanting pictures of their dead baby.
“But that’s because she’d never been in my situation, knowing that if I didn’t take photos then, I’d never have any of my son.
“After an hour with Oscar we felt the time was right to let the midwives — who were also visibly upset — take him away. He was wrapped in a little blanket I’d made for him with a sailboat stitched onto it.”
Off into the sunset, so to speak, sailed little Oscar, wrapped in a little blanket with a sailboat stitched onto it. How poetic.
Just guessing, but I suspect the midwives were upset for reasons entirely different than Treussard’s and her husband’s.