Decreasing the Abortion Rate of Down’s Syndrome Babies
We have four children. I’m 34. I’d like to have a fifth baby, sometime in the relatively near future. If that happens, I’ll be at least 35, the age where excessive “care” must be taken of expectant mothers, as my OB recently warned me, including a whole slew of tests that are deemed unnecessary in younger mothers. I know the risks for certain birth defects increase as the mother ages, but I’m not really concerned about that, at all. No matter what any tests might show, I’d carry and birth that baby, and love and care for him or her with delight.
Honestly, I was really fearful of mothering a child with Down’s Syndrome until I met a friend’s brother who has DS. He’s in his 40’s now, Tommy is, and his health is failing. He lives with his parents in northern Arizona, so we don’t see him much any more. But he is the most cheerful, hardest working, pleasant, gentle, attentive, loving “young” man one could care to meet. His love of Elvis and his hand-drawn cards for my hubby and me softened my heart, and gave me peace; I knew I’d be blessed if any of my children were like Tommy.
A couple of weeks ago, in the Arizona Republic newspaper, I read with alarm about the abortion rates among mothers expecting a child found, through prenatal testing, to have DS. The story centered around a doctor who is also the father of a DS son. He is among those advocating for better education of parents expecting DS children so as to decrease the abortion rate of DS children. Shockingly, the current abortion rate is an atrocious 90%. The article points out that most doctors do not give a well-balanced picture of what life is like, parenting a DS child; they nearly unanimously point out the negatives, painting a much more hellish picture than what real life bears out.
Increased prenatal testing and genetic testing really calls for more genetic counselors and health professionals who understand each disorder, and who can give parents a better understanding of what life would be like, parenting such a child. Now, I’m against abortion under any circumstances*, but any efforts that can be made to at least decrease the abortion rate is, in my book, at least a partial triumph. Zero percent is ideal, but, say, 8% is far better than 90%.
Not surprisingly, the article also discusses the ethics of producing “designer” babies.
Besides testing for Down syndrome, prenatal tests can be used to predict the likelihood of a child developing cancer, arthritis, diabetes or other diseases. Some parents choose in-vitro fertilization as a way to test and select embryos that lack the genetic makeup of certain diseases or have perceived desirable characteristics. As testing advances, so do the issues of education and ethics.
The article ended just as I hoped it would: pointing out that disabled people can have a softening effect on those around them. My children aren’t disabled, but one has a learning disorder, and two of them have severe digestive disorders, and that has really alerted me to the ramifications of such problems, and turned all of our family into advocates for each other, and for others with similar problems.
Kim Newman of Queen Creek said she still recoils at the manner in which a doctor described what to expect from a child with Down syndrome.
Prenatal tests showed her infant daughter would likely be born with Down syndrome, but Newman never considered having an abortion.
“He said your child will have a poor quality of life and she will live with you forever,” Newman said. “He described it as if I had a monster in me.”
Newman, who declined to name her doctor, acknowledges that caring for her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kairi, has been a struggle. The girl has had open-heart surgery, arthritis and slow cognitive development.
Still, Newman said Kairi has helped her and her two other children become more open to life in other ways.
“She was a blessing because she softened all our hearts,” Newman said. “My other kids now stand up for people with disabilities.”
From my perspective, there’s nothing positive to be gained from aborting a disabled baby, and a great deal to be lost — not just the life of that individual, but the lasting, positive impact s/he has on the lives of those around them.
* Normally, I’m all for nearly-free speech in my blog, and welcome discussion, but anyone who tries to talk me out of this stance, or ridicule me for it will find their comment summarily deleted.