Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Mother of a Down's Child Takes on the New Eugenics

This is a great column by lawyer Elizabeth R. Schiltz, published in Business Week. The mother of a Down's child, Schiltz blisters the pressure people like her are put under to abort Down syndrome babies:

"I've come to realize that many in the scientific and medical community view me as grossly irresponsible. Indeed, in the words of Bob Edwards, the scientist who facilitated the birth of England's first test-tube baby, I am a 'sinner.' A recent book even branded me a 'genetic outlaw.' My transgression? I am one of the dwindling number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and choose not to terminate our pregnancies."

This is indeed eugenics. Reading Schiltz' article reminded me of a speech I made to some medical school students a few years ago. It was a critique of personhood theory and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human.

After the speech, a student approached me and said that he was engaged in genetic counseling. What is he supposed to do, he asked, when a woman presents with a diagnosis that she is carrying a Down's baby. I suggested that perhaps a true counseling would include letting the prospective parents of a Down's baby meet people who are actually living that experience. They could tell of the great joy and love--as well as the very real difficulties--that come from parenting a developmentally disabled child. That would certainly be better than the pressure to abort that seems to be on the increase in such cases.

20 Comments:

At July 26, 2006 , Blogger Susan said...

Excellent piece. The writer spells out what this is all about.

 
At July 26, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"This is indeed eugenics. Reading Schiltz' article reminded me of a speech I made to some medical school students a few years ago. It was a critique of personhood theory and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human."

So, do cancer cells have value simply because they have human DNA?

I'm not saying that all Downs Syndrome babies should be aborted, but if the parents have an increased risk of producing a child with such defects, they should at least receive an incentive not to reproduce.

 
At July 26, 2006 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Down's kids are akin to cancer cells...Really, Winston Jen, this is beyond the pale even for you.

But, it is in keeping with euthanasia consciousness, which has always been closely associated with pernicious eugenics thought.

 
At July 26, 2006 , Blogger Dan said...

It's easy to make those claims when you are looking at life from the top down, and not from the bottom up.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"Down's kids are akin to cancer cells...Really, Winston Jen, this is beyond the pale even for you.

But, it is in keeping with euthanasia consciousness, which has always been closely associated with pernicious eugenics thought."

What I was getting at is that biological human life is less valuable than conscious human life.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Jason Rennie said...

How exactly are downs kids not conscious ?

Everytime I read this sort of garbage, i'm tempted to advocate that all people who support the idea that some human beings are "non-persons" and are therefore expendable and not worthy of protection should be classified as non-persons because obviously no sane, rational, conscious human being could hold such a position. After all, clearly they are not persons because they hold this position.

It's a bit like eating animals rights types. Seems like the best way to show them the error of their ways.

Jason

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

Sorry, I should have clarified.

I was criticizing the "being human has value" argument, because human cells do not have inherent value. Human beings, or people, have inherent value.

Of course people with Downs Syndrome are conscious.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Susan said...

Winston, you really need to be around some disabled people instead of spouting bigoted statements about how some people are more equal than others.

That's the root of every kind of bigotry there is, and prejudice against the disabled is no different.

You have a very twisted idea of what constitutes "freedom," which isn't "freedom" at all, especially when we are talking about people who are subjected to the whims of guardians. That's what is ALWAYS missing when the right-to-die advocates spew their rhetoric.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Human life refers to beings, organisms, etc., not mere cells.

Personhood theory requires humans to "earn" their moral value, based on criteria that those with the political power to decide, determine matter. This means an end to universal human rights since the so-called human non person becomes available for harvesting, among other forms of exploitation and oppression.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Bernhardt Varenius said...

Winston: "So, do cancer cells have value simply because they have human DNA?"

Why would they, when unlike an embryo, they are not a developing human being? Nice rhetorical ploy, but completely illogical.

"I'm not saying that all Downs Syndrome babies should be aborted, but if the parents have an increased risk of producing a child with such defects, they should at least receive an incentive not to reproduce."

In that case, you're essentially going to have to dissuade everyone over 35 from having children. Down Syndrome is a spontaneous condition that can occur with any conception (although the chances increase with age). And by the way: Who gets to decide what conditions are targeted with disincentives? What kind of attitude towards those born with the conditions anyway will such disincentives foster?

"I was criticizing the "being human has value" argument, because human cells do not have inherent value. Human beings, or people, have inherent value."

And as I implied above, a human embryo is not merely a collection of generic human cells, but rather a nascent human being. A 4-day-old embryo is exactly what you and I and everyone reading this was at 4 days after conception.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"Winston, you really need to be around some disabled people instead of spouting bigoted statements about how some people are more equal than others."

I'm not claiming that the disabled are somehow worth less than the non-disabled. I was claiming that "humanness" doesn't apply to non-persons. I never said that the disabled are not people, simply that there needs to be a better criteria.

It needs to be clarified as to whether "humanness" refers to biological life, or human consciousness.

"That's the root of every kind of bigotry there is, and prejudice against the disabled is no different."

It's not prejudice. I understand that my initial statement can be misinterpreted. I was saying that you can't value all human life, because individual cells are human, too.

"You have a very twisted idea of what constitutes "freedom," which isn't "freedom" at all, especially when we are talking about people who are subjected to the whims of guardians. That's what is ALWAYS missing when the right-to-die advocates spew their rhetoric."

You aren't consistent, either. You grant the right to die for those who can die by having their respirators removed, yet for those with MND who do not require life support, you force them to die "naturally".

Wesley: "Human life refers to beings, organisms, etc., not mere cells."

But cells are living, are they not? Isn't it the human mind that separates cells from human beings?

"Personhood theory requires humans to "earn" their moral value, based on criteria that those with the political power to decide, determine matter. This means an end to universal human rights since the so-called human non person becomes available for harvesting, among other forms of exploitation and oppression."

I don't think personhood has to be "earned" by moral criteria, but an objective one - consciousness. Without consciousness, there is no person.

Also, Wesley, if you needed a hospital bed, would you sacrifice it (and risk death) so that Terri Schiavo could "live"?

Embryos are indeed developing human beings, but the majority of implanted fertilized eggs naturally miscarry without the mother knowing that she was pregnant.

Also, forcing women to bear children is like forcing people to donate organs while they are alive.

That said, I strongly disagree with coercing women either way.

Gentle encouragement with financial benefits, etc., would reduce the number of people with Downs Syndrome, CF, etc, and I think that would be a good thing.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Not going to keep rearguing the same points with you. For my views on personhood theory, I suggest people see some of my articles and my book, CULTURE OF DEATH. As to Winston Jen's last point, perhaps you should speak with people (like me) who have cared for folk who are developmentally disabled: They are some of the best human beings I have ever met.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"As to Winston Jen's last point, perhaps you should speak with people (like me) who have cared for folk who are developmentally disabled: They are some of the best human beings I have ever met."

Good for you. Given the choice, though, would you rather be born with or without Downs' Syndrome?

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Irrelevant. I would have rather been born looking like Robert Redford, but so what? Nobody would prefer to have a Down's baby. But that does not mean they are not equal to the rest of us and utterly worthy of being loved and contributing to the fabric of life.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Bernhardt Varenius said...

Winston: "I don't think personhood has to be "earned" by moral criteria, but an objective one - consciousness."

But how do you "objectively" detect consciousness? It's nowhere as easy as you seem to assume. What comprises it? When does it start? etc.

"Embryos are indeed developing human beings, but the majority of implanted fertilized eggs naturally miscarry without the mother knowing that she was pregnant."

Which is equivalent to claiming that because people eventually die anyway, it's OK to murder them.

"Given the choice, though, would you rather be born with or without Downs' Syndrome?"

Wrong question, Winston. It's actually this: Would you rather have Downs Syndrome, or be dead?

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger LifeEthics.org said...

Winston Jen, the organism is organized. The embryo and the fetus are organized and carrying out the functions necessary for and consistent with the human being, at that age.

If I'm more conscious than you, if my IQ is higher, does that make me more of a person than you?

Degrees of personhood are just as logical as "non-person humans."

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Moreover, if we can distinguish between the human person and non person, why not between and among gradations of persons? The principle has been established, after all, that characteristics define moral worth, rather than mere humanhood. So, why not have some persons worth more than others?

Some are already proposing this: See James Hughes idea of "mature person," in his transhumanist manifesto, Citzen Cyborg.

 
At July 27, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"Irrelevant. I would have rather been born looking like Robert Redford, but so what? Nobody would prefer to have a Down's baby. But that does not mean they are not equal to the rest of us and utterly worthy of being loved and contributing to the fabric of life."

Good for you. But if you want to encourage women to give birth, you should be willing to pay for all of their pregnancy-related expenses.

"But how do you "objectively" detect consciousness? It's nowhere as easy as you seem to assume. What comprises it? When does it start? etc."

Brain waves. For example:

http://keshevzikaron.com/mambo/images/stories/brain%20waves-picture.jpg

Schiavo's were essentially flat. No consciousness, and 1/2 of her brain was gone and replaced by fluid. There's no way that she would have ever recovered even "minimal" consciousness.

"Winston Jen, the organism is organized. The embryo and the fetus are organized and carrying out the functions necessary for and consistent with the human being, at that age.

If I'm more conscious than you, if my IQ is higher, does that make me more of a person than you?

Degrees of personhood are just as logical as "non-person humans." "

There are no degrees. You either are a person, or you are not. A fetus does not become a person until brain waves are present at around the 6th month of pregnancy.

"Which is equivalent to claiming that because people eventually die anyway, it's OK to murder them."

No, because fertilized eggs are not persons. Women are more than human incubators, whether you want to acknowledge that or not.

Immediately after conception, I did not exist as a person - I had no brain, and therefore no consciousness.

"Wrong question, Winston. It's actually this: Would you rather have Downs Syndrome, or be dead?"

I suppose I would have to experience Downs Syndrome first before I could determine whether or not I preferred non-existence to living with Downs Syndrome.

"Moreover, if we can distinguish between the human person and non person, why not between and among gradations of persons? The principle has been established, after all, that characteristics define moral worth, rather than mere humanhood. So, why not have some persons worth more than others?"

Because all persons have human rights. Such as the right to die painlessly at a time of our own choosing.

Choosing to die naturally IS STILL A CHOICE. It should not be the only choice.

 
At July 28, 2006 , Blogger Bernhardt Varenius said...

Me: ""But how do you "objectively" detect consciousness? It's nowhere as easy as you seem to assume. What comprises it? When does it start? etc."

Winston: "Brain waves"

It's not that simple, Winston. What kind of brain waves do you mean? Any at all, regardless of type or source? Depending on how you define it, you could claim that the family dog has a consciousness and is therefore a person, while a human being who was comatose for a month and woke up again was a person, then wasn't, then became one again. And then there's the issue of whether you mean simple awareness or mind. Brain waves and "consciousness" may indeed be a decent guideline, but nonchalantly labeling it "objective" and assuming it's non-problematic is naive.

Winston: "A fetus does not become a person until brain waves are present at around the 6th month of pregnancy."

So you oppose abortion after the second trimester?

Me: "Which is equivalent to claiming that because people eventually die anyway, it's OK to murder them."

Winston: "No, because fertilized eggs are not persons."

You completely missed my point. Your original statement was this: "Embryos are indeed developing human beings, but the majority of implanted fertilized eggs naturally miscarry without the mother knowing that she was pregnant." In other words, because many embryos die naturally, what's the big deal about creating and destroying some? But of course this fact is entirely irrelevant, just as the fact that people die is irrelevant to the question of the morality of murder.

"I suppose I would have to experience Downs Syndrome first before I could determine whether or not I preferred non-existence to living with Downs Syndrome."

I wasn't asking for your personal opinion on the matter, Winston. I was pointing out that what's at stake in these questions is not a choice between having a condition or not, but rather between having a condition or death. Even though people like to describe in-vitro genetic screening as "preventing children from having illnesses," they are anything but medical therapies to heal children who otherwise would be sickly. The sickly children are still created in nascent form and have their illness for the entire time they are allowed to exist, but they are destroyed in vitro. In other words, the apparently healthy children ultimately born from these procedures are not sickly children healed of their afflictions, but simply those who made it through the gauntlet. Thus, the choice is illness or death.

 
At July 29, 2006 , Blogger Winston Jen said...

"It's not that simple, Winston. What kind of brain waves do you mean? Any at all, regardless of type or source? Depending on how you define it, you could claim that the family dog has a consciousness and is therefore a person, while a human being who was comatose for a month and woke up again was a person, then wasn't, then became one again. And then there's the issue of whether you mean simple awareness or mind. Brain waves and "consciousness" may indeed be a decent guideline, but nonchalantly labeling it "objective" and assuming it's non-problematic is naive."

OK, what brain waves did Terri Schiavo have?

"So you oppose abortion after the second trimester?"

Yes, because by then viability increases, and the women has had an ample opportunity to decide to carry or abort.

"You completely missed my point. Your original statement was this: "Embryos are indeed developing human beings, but the majority of implanted fertilized eggs naturally miscarry without the mother knowing that she was pregnant." In other words, because many embryos die naturally, what's the big deal about creating and destroying some? But of course this fact is entirely irrelevant, just as the fact that people die is irrelevant to the question of the morality of murder."

It's sad to have a miscarraige when you want a baby. But forcing women to give birth would cause more problems that it would solve.

Without a brain, it is not a person, and abortion is not murder.

Would you be willing to use your taxes to pay for ALL pregnancy-related medical expenses not related to abortion? Yes or no.

"I wasn't asking for your personal opinion on the matter, Winston. I was pointing out that what's at stake in these questions is not a choice between having a condition or not, but rather between having a condition or death. Even though people like to describe in-vitro genetic screening as "preventing children from having illnesses," they are anything but medical therapies to heal children who otherwise would be sickly. The sickly children are still created in nascent form and have their illness for the entire time they are allowed to exist, but they are destroyed in vitro. In other words, the apparently healthy children ultimately born from these procedures are not sickly children healed of their afflictions, but simply those who made it through the gauntlet. Thus, the choice is illness or death."

What about embryos disposed of during IVF treatment? Should suitable women be found to have those embryos implanted in them?

And how can you and Wesley claim to accuse others of "making the decision for others" when your stance on end-of-life issues is that any request for death is irrational, regardless of the physical and/or psychological pain present?

 

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