By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time, according to The Jerome Lejeune Foundation, when “we applaud caregivers, families, and medical professionals — but most of all, we applaud all the wonderful people with Down syndrome.” All during October we will be running new and previously published stories.
More than a few times I have drawn attention to the work of Mark W. Leach, an attorney from Louisville, Kentucky. With respect to children prenatally diagnosed with certain genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, he has written as eloquently and as thoughtful about the slide to eugenics as anyone.
Mr. Leach has composed a wonderful piece that ran in The Public Discourse, “A Eugenics Common Sense?” It is a 1,655 word primer about the ever-worsening gauntlet babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are compelled to run through.
The dilemma is not just increasingly accurate tests administered earlier in pregnancy. Nor is just that just a test that may identify up to 3,500 genetic conditions based solely on a sample of the mother’s blood and the father’s saliva. Nor are babies with “undesirable” genetic outlooks in peril only because of the widespread ignorance in the medical community. Mr. Leach writes
“Studies have found that medical professionals admit that they are poorly trained in both prenatal testing and the conditions currently tested for, the main one being Down syndrome. Moreover, the medical school deans in charge of training them admit that their future medical professionals are not competent to treat individuals with intellectual disabilities. Is it any wonder, given this training, or lack thereof, and the culture in which they strive to succeed, that medical professionals overwhelmingly admit that they would abort following a prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome? Simultaneously, medical professionals have a financial incentive for their patients to accept testing, which provides more revenue for their practice.”
No, the danger to these babies is much wider, deeper, broader. Whether the context is prestigious conferences, dismissive comments by senior medical editors, a frank cost/benefit analysis, or the wholehearted, enthusiastic embrace of these diagnostic tools, a certain lexicon is now standard. “Burden. Defective. Epidemic,” as Mr. Leach points out.
“These were terms commonly used in the eugenics era at the turn of the last century to justify compulsory sterilizations and involuntary euthanasia. But raise concerns at the turn of this century over prenatal genetic testing, and, as Mr. [William] Saletan [a columnist at Slate.com] shows, the critics will be dismissed for simply being Luddites, against the advances of technology in the information age.
“What Mr. Saletan and other proponents of prenatal genetic testing ignore is that while technology may be value-neutral, how it is administered is not.”
These are only a few of the insights you’ll find at thepublicdiscourse.com. The fight–and that’s what it is, however politely it is waged—is over taming what Mr. Leach describes as “an ingrained bent toward finding a reason to discriminate against others.”
Let me conclude with one more quote from Mr. Leach:
“Again, this, too, is the lesson from last century’s eugenics. While it began with individuals termed ‘feeble-minded,’ it also included those with physical disabilities, homosexuals, and, ultimately, Jews. The progress in civilized society that followed the Holocaust was due in part to the lesson being learned that once a group of people can be labeled as defective, then, so, too, can any other group, depending on who has the power to do the labeling.”