Tag Archives: Down syndrome

On Down Syndrome and other self-inflicted tragedies

Earlier this week Salon published an article about a mother dealing with an adult Autistic son, who’s out of control violence led her to desperate measures. Her story reminded me of the angry responses I’ve received whenever I’ve written against Down syndrome.

Dozens of parents have responded to each post, claiming to have adorable little children with Down’s. (The context to keep in mind here is that Down syndrome is now an optional illness, now that safe and effective testing is available for all mothers in the developed world.) Yet, I haven’t received a single comment from parents of adults with Down syndrome. Where are all the adorable little adults with Down syndrome?

I suspect there are three reasons why I haven’t seen their comments.

First, many of their children died prematurely due to the many health complications of Down Syndrome. (See previous posts for details.)

Second, many children have grown up to become severely disabled adults, and are living in mental institutions at taxpayer expense – or sometimes, in homeless shelters or on the streets.

Third, the minority of parents whose children survived to adulthood and who remained committed to taking care of them on their own know that their adorable babies turned into incomprehensible, obstinate, sullen, capricious, and sometimes very violent adults. Their mental illness makes the world an incomprehensible place to them, and their unpredictable behavior makes them bewildering to their caretakers.

Have you ever noticed the ratio of mentally disabled children to that of mentally disabled adults in social situations? The apparent disparity goes beyond their lower life expectancy. I suspect that the surviving retarded children grow into retarded adults, fundamentally unable to deal with civilized life, and hidden away in homes and institution and highway underpasses.

My point is that human disabilities, mental and physical, are a tragedy to be avoided at all costs, not something to be accepted as unavoidable fate, or worse, to be cherished for their uniqueness. They ought to be screened, aborted, and engineered out of the human race as soon as medically and technologically possible. If this is obvious to you, great. Unfortunately, inexplicably, even rational people whom I respect differ with me on this issue. The only proper response for parents who make such choices ought to be moral condemnation: if they have chosen to have crippled children, they ought to condemned, and all the pain, frustration, violence, and expense caused by their choice ought to be placed squarely on the parents.

(In response to the inevitable comments, I must emphasize that the condemnation extends only to the parents. Like all human beings, the victims of their parents’ choice ought to be cherished, and every effort should be made to integrate them into society and make them productive adults.)

One last observation: I’ve already written how many parents who choose to have Down children treat them as religious icons when they are small. When they grow large, how many of them treat them as pets that have grown too large to keep in the house, and delegate them to a locked basement, or a mental institution?

Update: Thanks to everyone for their comments. Rather than trying to respond to individual comments, I have summarized my response here: The One Minute Case for Designer Babies. Many of the other comments address abortion and eugenics. I responded to those arguments in this post.


Filed under General

Christian fundamentalists put freaks on parade

Christians and other mystics sometimes argue that religion makes people moral. I disagree: morality is a practical science which can only be understood by rational consideration, not emotionalism (the epistemological method of faith). To the extent that religious dogmas and religious people preach and act morally, they derive their principles using the same rational methods and the same evidence that is available to everyone. Since rational moral claims need no mystical basis, it is only the irrational and immoral actions which require religious justification. To the extent that religious beliefs as such influence people’s actions, they can only influence them to do wrong – sometimes unspeakable and sometimes trivial, but still evil.

For the most part, modern Western religions, such as those in the United States, merely consist of mindless time-wasting rituals. They are evil in the sense of distracting people from more productive activities, especially from more productive means of finding moral guidance. Nevertheless, for the most part, and despite their religion, most Americans are good and productive people, who pay lip-service to a dogma highly diluted by Western philosophy and modern science.

The prime candidate for the moral monopoly of religion in America is the domain of life and death. This is where the real evil of religious influence becomes evident. One particularly despicable influence of religion was out on display when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate. One of Governor’s Palin’s qualifications for the presidential ticket is that she gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome in April.

The fact that Palin’s baby has Down syndrome is certainly tragic. Down not only severely impacts the health and life-expectancy of the child, is also a tremendous burden on their caretakers. (Aside from my personal observation, my girlfriend has worked closely with Down parents and their children.) As an unpredictable genetic disorder however, the symptom cannot be blamed on anyone. Except for this: since January 2007, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended Down screening for all pregnant women, and so Governor Palin knew that her fetus had Down’s, and decided to continue her pregnancy anyway. Furthermore, she has turned her decision into political leverage in the upcoming election as proof of her moral virtuousness:

“How refreshing that now we have a woman who reflects the values of mainstream American women,” said Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative group Concerned Women for America.

Whereas previously, a Down’s child could be born without the prior knowledge of the mother, going forward, a parent with a Down’s child will likely (at least in the developed world) have made a conscious choice to have that child. The child represents a sacrifice made by their parents for their faith. As the recommendations of ACOG are implemented nationwide, Down children (and eventually those with other genetic disorders) will increasingly become symbols of faith – a freak show meant to communicate the “family values” of their parents. They will be a symbol of religious reverence in the same way as the scarred backs of Catholics who flagellate themselves, or Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire, or Sunni Muslims who mutilate their girl’s genitals or Shiites who bloody their and their children’s heads with swords.

Genuine moral virtues – such as integrity, honesty, and productivity are not useful as evidence of religious virtue. To the extent that their practical benefit is visible to everyone, they do not represent the special domain of religion. To demonstrate religious virtue, it is necessary to sacrifice authentic moral values in favor of “religious” values. The particular object of the sacrifice is not important – there is nothing particularly “biblical” about being prolife (the Christian bible just as easily supports the opposite position.) If Christian fundamentalists decided that cutting of one’s hand sufficed as proof of moral virtue, they would still be guilty of evil, but not much more so than the numerous other ways that people of all kinds find to be self-destructive. What is really vicious about fundamentalists in America is that the prey on the most vulnerable –poor pregnant young girls and women, those dying from painful terminal illnesses, the loved ones of brain-dead patients, — and children afflicted with terrible genetic illnesses.

One can at least grasp the moral indifference with which a fundamentalist can force a single young mother to abandon her goals and dreams and condemn her and her child to poverty. But what can we say about a parent that chooses a life of suffering upon their child? If we are morally outraged by child rapists, how should we judge a parent who chooses a lifetime of suffering on their own child?


Filed under General, Mysticism