Lamenting Those Who Lament Down Syndrome

 

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You don’t have to be an anti-natalist, much less some kind of nihilist, to defend the decision on the part of a majority of would-be mothers to abort fetuses showing signs of Down syndrome. But over at The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry sheds tears over the “ghosts” of Down syndrome babies who never were:

I do not know a single family with a child with trisomy 21 who has not regarded them as a joy, much less regretted their existence. The expression “ray of sunshine” has become such a cliché, but here it is perfectly applicable. It’s always striking how joyous many people with trisomy 21, especially children, appear.

Regardless of how one feels about abortion policy, this is a treachery of unspeakable magnitude that shames our entire society. We go about in the world surrounded by the ghosts we have made, and we do not even have the good taste to be haunted.

If there is a God, we had better all pray that He is merciful.

Whew, powerful words.

Gobry acknowledges the generally observed intellectual disability that comes with DS, though he omits any mention of the increased risk of early dementia and even leukemia, among other ills. In fact here’s what the Alzheimer’s Association has to say about it:

Studies suggest that more than 75 percent of those with Down syndrome aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, nearly 6 times the percentage of people in this age group who do not have Down syndrome.

One is struck – or at least I am – by Gobry’s seeming embrace of individuals with DS due to their childlike qualities, to the detriment of a perspective taking into account the complete life cycle. And linking the discussion to abortion only strengthens the focus on DS’ early years.

Gobry observes that on average, a person with DS “will have the intelligence of a normal 8 or 9 year old child.” Ah, but of course those are great years for parents, it’s no small thing to point out, sandwiched as they are between the chaotic toddler and rebellious teen phases. I suspect there’s more than a bit of warm, glowing self-interest smuggled into Gobry’s argument.

DS last popped up in the news in mid-2014, when Richard Dawkins was being lambasted for suggesting would-be mothers of fetuses with DS “abort it and try again.” Blunt language to be sure, but as The American Interest’s Walter Mead (I think, there’s no byline) said at the time, most people would seem to agree. At least if we’re judging them by their actual behavior and not what they’d be brave enough to admit to in mixed company:

One of the main reasons why people abort them is the same reason why people support physician assisted suicide and other “mercy killings”—because, the argument goes, one ought to spare someone from living a low quality of life.

Indeed.

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