Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michael Gerson: "Trig's Breakthrough" [UPDATED]

Michael Gerson writes at The Washington Post:
In addition to Barack Obama making history as the first African American to be nominated for president and Sarah Palin taking her shotgun to the glass ceiling, there was a third civil rights barrier broken at the political conventions this year.

Trig Paxson Van Palin -- pronounced by his mother "beautiful" and "perfect" and applauded at center stage of the Republican convention -- smashed the chromosomal barrier. And it was all the more moving for the innocence and indifference of this 4-month-old civil rights leader.

It was not always this way. John F. Kennedy's younger sister Rosemary, who was born in 1918, had a mental disability that was treated as a family secret. For decades Rosemary was hidden as a "childhood victim of spinal meningitis." Joseph Kennedy subjected his daughter to a destructive lobotomy when she was 23. It was the remarkable Eunice Kennedy Shriver who talked openly of her sister's condition in 1962 and went on to found the Special Olympics as a summer camp in her back yard -- part of a great social movement of compassion and inclusion.

Trig's moment in the spotlight is a milestone of that movement. But it comes at a paradoxical time. Unlike what is accorded African Americans and women, civil rights protections for people with Down syndrome have rapidly eroded over the past few decades. Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by prenatal testing each year, about 90 percent are eliminated by abortion. Last year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended universal, early testing for Down syndrome -- not just for older pregnant women. Some expect this increased screening to reduce the number of Down syndrome births to something far lower than the 5,500 we see today, perhaps to fewer than 1,000.

The wrenching diagnosis of 47 chromosomes must seem to parents like the end of a dream instead of the beginning of a life. But children born with Down syndrome -- who learn slowly but love deeply -- are generally not experienced by their parents as a curse but as a complex blessing. And when allowed to survive, men and women with an extra chromosome experience themselves as people with abilities, limits and rights. Yet when Down syndrome is detected through testing, many parents report that genetic counselors and physicians emphasize the difficulties of raising a child with a disability and urge abortion.

This is properly called eugenic abortion -- the ending of "imperfect" lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of people who have disabilities. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption -- "Didn't you get an amnio?" -- and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependent are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.

The protest against these trends has come in interesting forms. Last year pro-choice Sen. Edward Kennedy joined with pro-life Sen. Sam Brownback to propose a bill that would have required medical professionals to tell expectant parents that genetic tests are sometimes inaccurate and to give them up-to-date information on the quality of life that people with Down syndrome can enjoy. The bill did not pass, but it was a principled gesture from Rosemary's brother.

[Read the whole thing]
My Comments:
Regardless of what one might think of Gov. Palin or her policies, Trig Palin growing up in front of the eyes of America could be quite a profound teaching moment.

Also, be sure to also read this hearwarming exchange.

Canadian Doctors Group Worried Palin Example Will Lower Down's Abortion Rate

Yes, we should have health care just like that in Canada. NOT.

Another heartwarmer.

(Hat tip: Kathryn Lopez and The Anchoress)

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Insipid: Sen. Biden Questions the Depth of Gov. Palin's Commitment to Special Needs Children, Pointing to Her Lack of Support for ESCR

The Pro-Abort Candidate for Whom Certain Catholics Would Have Us Vote [UPDATED]

Sen. Kennedy Joins Sen. Brownback on Pro-Life Legislation

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