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Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Bioethics, Debate | 7 comments

Notung weighs in on pre-natal screening

Following my post yesterday, Notung has weighed in with his views about pre-natal screening for Down syndrome. The view he expresses on the underlying issue of the merits of pre-natal screening is one that would be widely accepted among both the professional communities of bioethicists and medical doctors and the general community. However, it seems that some disability advocates consider such mainstream views to be “eugenics” (a much-abused word) and to be so far beyond the pale that their advocates should be driven from their employment.

This really is a rather frightening development. No one wants to be seen to be against the rights of the disabled, so disability advocates start with a certain amount of good will and perception of having the moral high ground. This kind of good will/moral high ground can be abused, however, and we need to be vigilant about it, rather than assuming that anyone who starts with it in any particular case should be regarded as the “good guys”.


Edit: Tauriq Moosa has also weighed in.

  • Thanny

    Downs is unquestionably a disability, and having a Downs child undeniably causes hardship for a family – not maybe, but definitely. No reasonable person could possibly claim otherwise.

    Beyond that, preventing someone from being born with a congenital disease suggests no position on how to treat people already born with that disease. To suggest otherwise is absurd. The same logic says we shouldn’t cure cancer, because it might affect how we treat people who have it.

  • DrewHardies

    I agree with you about the abuse of language.

    Describing voluntary screening as “eugenics” is like describing an appendectomy as “a stabbing.” It might be true in a very literal sense. But those descriptions completely miss the reasons why we consider eugenics and stabbings (harm, non-consent) to be bad in the first place.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I think I agree with you. There is nothing wrong with suggesting to people that they may want to question whether they bring a Down’s Syndrome child to full term. Then again, I’m more than a bit of a relativist. Good-bad, right-wrong are a black and white dichotomy in a world that is very gray.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    What if we could fix the problem?

    Would they also consider that eugenics and campaign against it?

    Should a child have the right to be born disabled? (It’s actually sad that I have to ask that question.)

  • Apparently not, at least according to the other thread. That does rather suggest that the objection – at least from Stella and (possibly) Suzy – is specifically to the abortion of DS fetuses, rather than elimination of DS from the population.

  • RussellBlackford

    They may not all be saying the same thing, though. But yes, in some cases the arguments are anti-abortion ones. But there also seems to be an argument that having Down syndrome is something like belonging to a “race” or coming from a cultural background, so if we cumulatively end up with a population in which no one has Down syndrome this is equivalent to the destuction of a culture or to genocidal actions such as forced sterilisations or a “breeding out” policy against a racial group.

  • Yeah, there are a range of different objections that I’ve encountered here, ranging from the reasonable to the incoherent. For instance, is their objection to treating DS in this way, or also to screening programmes for other conditions like spina bifida? Unfortunately, the tone of SavingDowns’ contribution made it very hard to get to the point of really exploring those.

    It really is a pity, because the perspectives of those with DS children is massively important here. (Not that the Saving Down’s people can credibly claim to speak on behalf of all, or most, families in that situation.) But it’s hard to have a frank and honest exchange with someone who will try to sabotage one’s career if one says the wrong thing.