“Baby Doe,” Down syndrome, hardened hearts, and Alfie Evans

By Dave Andrusko

The recent blowback to a deeply insensitive and in many ways creepy op-ed written by Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for the reliably pro-abortion Washington Post, has not lessened. Nor should it.

Indeed, the Post itself revisited the entire issue raised by Marcus—aborting children for no reason other than that they are diagnosed with Down syndrome—in a story written this week by Paige Winfield Cunningham under the headline, “Abortion debate turns to Down syndrome.”

Although Cunningham saves her merely passing reference to Marcus until the very end, in fact it was Marcus’ article and her doubling down when criticized that is the latest example of a phase of the abortion debate whose visibility continues to grow.

Why?

Because states are beginning to pass laws that say you can’t wipe out children because, and only because, they have an extra chromosome.

The headline to Marcus’ op-ed was an accurate representation of her argument: “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” It was her snarky attitude that aggravated an already awful thesis.

Go ahead and have your Down syndrome baby but not me, a big-shot newspaper type. Referring to her own two children, Marcus remarks, “I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.” Ah, yes, “and moved on.”

Cunningham makes the point that not all pro-choicers are comfortable with what is (although never described as such) modern day eugenics. As she put it

The debate doesn’t cut cleanly across traditional lines in the abortion fight. While some who favor abortion rights feel women should be able to terminate their pregnancies for any reason, others worry that certain populations are being discriminated against or even at risk of being wiped out.

She then talks at length about a brand new book written by bioethicist Chris Kaposy, whose son has Down syndrome. He wrote a recent New York Times op-ed in which he summarizing the core of “Choosing Down Syndrome: Ethics and New Prenatal Testing Technologies” (which she shortens to “Choosing Down Syndrome”).

But, as we noted (and as Cunningham alludes to) pro-choicers like Kaposy merely “worry” about people with Down syndrome “being wiped out”—and seen as a good thing (see Iceland).

They want children with Down syndrome to be accepted—of course—but doing something about protecting them in utero fights a losing battle with their “pro-choice” credentials.

Two quick concluding thoughts. First, Cunningham includes some tweets from Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, “who has a son with the condition.” One of them read

 

After reading the opinion piece in the @washingtonpost about aborting babies with Down syndrome, I struggled to put into words how offensive it is.

Indeed!

Second, is another passing reference, this one to how “Kaposy first became interested in the topic.” It was

upon learning of the “Baby Doe” case in the 1980s, in which the parents of a baby with Down syndrome declined surgery to fix an esophageal atresia, which led to his death. The baby’s doctor had argued the parents declined the surgery because he was intellectually disabled, not because the procedure was risky.

I followed that case intently, during and after, and wrote many columns. Here is what George Will wrote back in 1982

The baby needed serious but feasible surgery to enable food to reach its stomach. The parents refused the surgery, and presumably refused to yield custody to any of the couples eager to become the baby’s guardians. The parents chose to starve their baby to death.

Their lawyer concocted an Orwellian euphemism for this refusal of potentially life-saving treatment–“Treatment to do nothing.” It is an old story: language must be mutilated when a perfumed rationalization of an act is incompatible with a straightforward description of the act.

Nothing at the time or since, that I have read, ever concluded it was merely the doctor “arguing” that Baby Doe’s parents starved him to death because he had Down syndrome. As Will noted

There is no reason–none–to doubt that if the baby had not had Down’s syndrome the operation would have been ordered without hesitation, almost certainly, by the parents or, if not by them, by the courts.

Why do I bring this paragraph from Cunningham’s story? Because it perfectly illustrates the gushy euphemisms employed to kill babies with Down syndrome, in utero or ex utero. And not just babies with Down syndrome.

Failure to have the surgery performed on the newborn didn’t merely “lead to his death,” as if it played a small role. Choosing not to perform surgery meant that food could not reach the baby’s stomach.

Baby Doe starved to death.

As I write this, little Alfie Evans has been without food since at least a little after 9PM London time on Monday.