Thursday, October 09, 2008

Terminal Progress

Unlike many other genetic anomalies, such as Tay-Sachs and anencephaly, Down Syndrome (also known as Down's Syndrome or Trisomy 21) is not a terminal disorder. Children born with Down Syndrome are not vegetables, nor are their lives demonstrably not worth living. Indeed, advances in science and changes in public perception have combined to make Down Syndrome a relatively mild birth defect: The average child born with Down Syndrome in America today can expect to reside at home, go to school, learn to read, hold a job, and live to the age of 55. He will grow up cognizant of ethics and events, and will be mildly to moderately retarded, with an IQ of between 55 and 70. It is one of the triumphs of modern society that the life of the average person with Down Syndrome has become strikingly normal. Except that, unlike normal people, people with Down Syndrome have been targeted for elimination.
Easy there, ya big silly. A decline in the number of Down's babies means that we've cured Down's, obviously. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Right?
In 1978, the Delaware chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens did take a position [on abortion]: It passed a resolution demanding that the federal government pay for abortions for poor women who learn they are carrying potential retarded citizens. The resolution prompted The Arc's national organization to convene a task force on the issue. After months of work, the group produced a 60-page report declaring that, although a majority of its members supported government funding for the abortion of retarded children, a unanimous decision could not be reached. And that, says lobbyist Marchand, was that: "I don't think anything on abortion has crossed my desk in the last ten years." The only comparable issue today, he says, is the debate within the "disability community" over whether it is valid to search for a cure for mental retardation. "It can be a touchy subject," he explains without a hint of irony, because when you seek a cure, "what you're doing de facto is devaluing people with mental retardation."
Oh, so ... Oh.