Yesterday, 3/21, was World Down Syndrome Day, and it felt like time to make a post I’ve been wanting to make for a few days now but haven’t taken the opportunity to write out. If I’d learned about World Down Syndrome Day prior to 11 PM, you’d have seen this post yesterday, but late is better than never.
Before reading any further, read this article. It details the current event inspiring this post.
To sum up the important details, a family was recently awarded a monetary judgment against their physician because errors were made when genetically screening their unborn child. The judgment covers the approximate cost of raising a child with Down Syndrome, which the family says (and jury agreed) they are entitled to because had the test accurately diagnosed their child with the condition, they’d have had an abortion.
I have a large number of problems with this situation, including but not limited to assigning a dollar value to human life, the idea of a jury without medical expertise placing judgment on medical fallibility and/or malpractice, and – because I’m Catholic and own up to that bias – the idea that abortion is acceptable in any but the most extreme situations. However, those are all perspectives that require much lengthier explanations, clarifications, and qualifications regarding policy (for instance, the Catholic belief that opposes abortion also insists upon social justice, including providing health care to women and their unborn children, and too many Catholics seem to conveniently forget that), and they’re not related to the core argument I’m presenting – that feminists (and I do use the term loosely in this post to refer to individuals concerned with opportunity for all rather than a gender-focused construction of the movement) should be unsettled at best by this legal precedent.
The family in this article wanted a child. I consider this pretty much indisputable, since the family’s choice, when they thought the child was healthy, was to have the child. As such, this is not about abortion rights as a whole (whether or not you should be able to have an abortion when you don’t want any child is a different discussion), but about under what circumstances having an abortion should be acceptable.
My concern is not that the couple didn’t *a* child, but that they didn’t want *that* child, and that our legal system supports that distinction. I’ll be perfectly honest about this – I’m taking this personally. I’m married to a lovely woman who happens to have a physical disability, and my brother, sister, and late mother all have the same cancer-causing genetic condition, and I feel like our court system supporting abortion choice based on the child’s medical condition devalues their lives and life experiences. No child is perfect, and choosing to value one group of children over another because of the type of challenges that child or group of children would present and face is, at its core, ableist. It values the lives and potential contributions of those without disabilities higher than those with disabilities. And that’s the best case scenario. We do have a term for practices that discriminate and favor one person or group over another based on genetics – it’s called eugenics. While previous large-scale attempts at eugenics have been state-directed, we now seem to be developing a social construct – backed by the legal system – that making reproductive choices to screen out certain genetic characteristics is acceptable or even desirable at the individual level. So instead of the state selecting “undesirables”, we’re now being given, at least to a small extent, the right to screen out those who would be undesirable in our homes. I find that very troubling – as a Catholic, as a feminist, and as a stakeholder in the future of our country and society.
I’m curious to hear what others think about this, and while I may or may not reply to comments, I will be reading and considering them. Am I missing something, either philosophically or factually? Is my understanding of feminist principles in relation to ableism off-base? Did I misunderstand the court decision? Is there something else entirely that I’m not considering?
Thanks for reading this clear departure from my normal hobby-linked rambling.