This story follows the February announcement that the new Gerber Spokesbaby is Lucas Warren who had Down Syndrome. The famous baby food company stated that Lucas “exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby.” (Emphasis added)
However, this past week, the influential ethicist Arthur L. Caplan, PhD wrote a commentary titled “Should It Be Harder to Get Abortions for Down Syndrome Babies?”
for Medscape, a password protected medical news website for health professionals.
In his commentary, ethicist Caplan recognizes the worries that “Down Syndrome is becoming increasingly rare in Europe and the United States” because of prenatal testing and abortion.
But he contends that because:
“In recent years, we have even seen kids with Down syndrome appearing on cheerleading squads, or being put into beauty pageants. It’s clear that there has been movement to not exile or isolate children in the United States with Down syndrome and to try and get them more mainstream.” (Emphasis added)
Nevertheless, ethicist Caplan accepts the ultimate “exile” of Down Syndrome by abortion because “After all, legally, you don’t have to have any reason to decide to end the pregnancy.” (Emphasis added) He additionally cites polls showing high public support for abortion for “genetic or hereditary diseases”.
Therefore he also criticizes the few states that have passed laws to protect unborn babies testing positive for Down Syndrome from abortion. (Emphasis added)
Dr. Caplan says he is not against “offering information to parents” about Down Syndrome but he is against “mandating” that such information be given.
Perhaps Dr. Caplan has forgotten that in 2008, the Kennedy Brownback law “Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act” was overwhelmingly passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law “(t)o amend the Public Health Service Act to increase the provision of scientifically sound information and support services to patients receiving a positive test diagnosis for Down syndrome or other prenatally and postnatally diagnosed conditions.”
DOWN SYNDROME AND PREJUDICE
Unfortunately, prenatal discrimination naturally leads to postnatal discrimination as I personally discovered when my husband and I had our daughter Karen who had Down Syndrome and a heart defect. We were shocked when the cardiologist gave us the option of refusing cardiac surgery and letting her die despite the excellent chance for survival with surgery.
Although we chose life for our daughter, we later found that Karen was secretly made a “Do not Resuscitate” (DNR) during one hospitalization by our trusted pediatrician who said I was “too emotionally involved with that retarded baby”. Unfortunately, we eventually lost our Karen to complications from pneumonia before her planned surgery.
I’m sure Dr. Caplan would not be in favor of terminating anyone because of race, sex, etc. but he apparently has a “politically correct” blind spot when it comes to abortion.
Ironically, one of the state laws that ethicist Caplan objects to states:
“That Indiana does not allow a fetus to be aborted solely because of the fetus’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Downs syndrome or any other disability.” (Emphasis added)
There is no test that will prove that an unborn baby is “perfect”, either before or after birth. For example, many of us have had our so-called “normal” children unexpectedly die or become addicted to illegal drugs years after birth. It is a sad conceit to assume that we can ensure the happiness of ourselves and our families by testing and then controlling which of our unborn babies are allowed to live.
In reality, a 2016 study “Positive attitudes prevail within families of people with Down syndrome” showed that almost 90% of families with members having Down Syndrome reported pride, love and even feelings of enrichment.
And a 2011 study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics titled “Self-perceptions from People with Down Syndrome “ found that “99% of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives”.
Nevertheless, as those of us who have had children with Down Syndrome know, the negative stereotypes of people with Down Syndrome persist despite these studies and often affect the medical professionals and ethicists charged with giving women and families information and options (including adoption) for conditions like Down Syndrome. Incomplete or biased information can be deadly and result in the now up to 90% of mothers who abort their unborn babies after a diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
The world is so much poorer without people like my late daughter Karen who was greatly loved. Prejudice against Down Syndrome justified as the legal “right to abortion” is lethal, not “acceptable”.
Women and their families surely deserve both comprehensive information and support when a prenatal diagnosis like Down Syndrome is made.
And every child, born or unborn, deserves a chance for life.