Here is a response to some of the comments in my last post in Q&A format. (Some of the comments come from responses to my comment to other’s posts arguing against genetic screening for DS. )The questions are classified by two categories – the morality of abortion as such, and the morality of “eugenics.”
“You are pretty emphatic that a fetus is not a baby. Why?”
The essential issue here is whether a fetus has the rights of a human being. My answer is no for two reasons:
- Pro-lifers confuse the potential with the actual. An actual human being is a physically distinct being who survives by the use of reason. (Yes, babies are helpless after birth, but their very existence does not impose an obligation on the mother –other are capable of taking care of them.)
- There is no right to be a parasite. The fetus is essentially a parasite because its very existence imposes an obligation on the mother. A fetus has no more “right” to live of the mother than a thief has to live on others wealth.
“[You make] the common mistake of thinking that the unborn are not human persons because they are so small… Does your personhood derive from your size? Is Arnold Schwarzenegger more of a person than Gary Coleman?”
No, the essential issue here is metaphysical independence.
“[Don’t] infants with trisomy deserve to live just like any other infant does?”
Yes, once they are born. Prior to that, they are to human beings what an apple seed is to an apple tree, or an egg is to a chicken. Most people don’t claim that eggs are chickens – why do they make the same error with a fetus?
“Under current law, protected life begins at viability. Is that a bad idea?”
Actually, since Roe vs. Wade, it mostly does not. To the extent that it is protected, the law is wrong.
For more on this issue, I suggest reading the One Minute Case For Abortion Rights
Have you “embraced eugenics?”
Eugenics is a vague term. If we view it as selective breeding on an individual level, then every parent advocates and practices it, since we all choose partners with certain genetic traits (a particular appearance or personality) rather than practice completely indiscriminate sex. If we define birth control as eugenics, then everyone also practices that also, since we choose when to have sex even when we don’t use technological aids. If we define it as the selection of particular combinations of genes, rather than the selection of the partner from whom those genes will come, in the form of genetic and prenatal screening, then I advocate that too, when feasible.
A different definition of eugenics is that which is practiced on a social level, as the voluntary or coercive selection of prevention of certain human genes from being expressed. I, like most people, advocate that only in a very limited basis, that being inbreeding between siblings and the cloning of human beings using current technology.
As it applies to Down syndrome, my belief that choosing to have children with DS is immoral is actually the opposite of eugenics. DS severely retards fertility, so having kids with DS does not increase its incidence as a hereditary trait. On the other hand, having less kids with DS does make room for those parents to have more normal kids with dormant DS genes, so it may actually increase the incidence of DS.
“Down syndrome is not a disease. It is not an illness… We all have our special needs, don’t we?”
Actually, it’s universally recognized as a genetic disorder. “Disorder” means a condition which is unhealthy or detrimental to life as a human being. The specific problems related to DS are “cognitive impairment, congenital heart disease, hearing deficits, short stature, thyroid disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Other less common serious illnesses include leukemia, immune deficiencies, and epilepsy..and “an average lifespan of 49 years.” This is qualitatively worse than the medical problems the average person encounters. For example, I have a genetic tendency for hypertension, which I counter with regular exercise. This is very different from a disorder which severely impairs most functions of everyday life.
“Just because a child is born with DS, [does that] mean that they are unhealthy or going to suffer for the rest of their lives?”
Not for their entire life. If someone were really going to endure constant suffering for the rest of their life, then I would suggest that they commit suicide. (Not murder, as some comments imply.) However DS does significantly affect the overall quality of life relative to a healthy personal. Some of the reasons for this are mentioned in my response above. If you still doubt this, then I would ask – how valuable would a cure for DS be to you if you or someone you loved has DS? Only someone who embraces human suffering could turn such an offer down.
One analogy to the quality of life of a DS person is wealth. Money does not guarantee happiness, but extreme poverty is an impediment to it by limiting our opportunity to pursue things that make us happy.
Do you advocate “playing God?”
Yes, in the sense that humans should strive to transform their environment and themselves in the image of their values.
“If there was a test for expecting mothers that predicts the IQ of their baby, every mother should have it done?”
If there was a test for mental retardation, then yes. If I could easily have a smarter child, then sure. Since abortions are expensive (not just financially), I only advocate them in cases where the child’s standard of life would be significantly impaired.
“If you don’t like the test results, [are] you going to keep on aborting the pregnancy until you’re happy[?]”
If I were a woman, and with the disclaimer above, yes.
“Good luck finding a woman that will do that for you.”
Thanks, I did.
“As the Bible says, the wisdom of man is foolishness to God. Those who think that they are so clever and know so much about medicine and science are like children to God, the creator of the universe.”
And you, of course, have a personal line to his office.