Wednesday, May 9, 2007

News You May Have Missed: Murder Rate Hits 90% in U.S.

I've been reading lately about abortion practices in India and China, where it's a well-known practice to abort baby girls (er, female fetuses), because parents are constrained by law or economics to have only one child, and boys are more valuable to the family. Girls are merely money pits. This practice is technically illegal, but it happens, it's no big secret, sonogram manufacturers knowingly provide the equipment for it, and nobody ever seems to be prosecuted for it.

India and China didn't invent eugenic abortion, however. The Nazis didn't either, but during their Reich it was public policy, not something done in secret, to eliminate imbeciles and cripples. The picture you see here, which I found on Wikipedia, is from that time period. It promotes a forced euthanasia program; clearly, the regime would have supported eugenic abortion, as well. Translated, the poster says, "This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow Germans, that is your money, too." Why waste money on worthless persons? Eliminate them for the benefit of all.

Peter Singer at Princeton is (in)famous for advocating something similar, but I've always considered him to be a fringe idiot, not someone in the vanguard of public thought.

Maybe I was wrong.

In today's NY Times on-line, I read the following:

Sarah Itoh, a self-described “almost-eleven-and-a-half,” betrayed no trace of nervousness as she told a roomful of genetic counselors and obstetricians about herself one recent afternoon.

She likes to read, she said. Math used to be hard, but it is getting easier. She plays clarinet in her school band. She is a junior girl scout and an aunt, and she likes to organize, so her room is very clean. Last year, she won three medals in the Special Olympics.

I am so lucky I get to do so many things,” she concluded. “I just want you to know, even though I have Down syndrome, it is O.K.”

Sarah’s appearance at Henry Ford Hospital here is part of an unusual campaign being undertaken by parents of children with Down syndrome who worry about their future in the face of broader prenatal testing that could sharply reduce the number of those born with the genetic condition.

Until this year, only pregnant women 35 and older were routinely tested to see if their fetuses had the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. As a result many couples were given the diagnosis only at birth. But under a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a new, safer screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age.

About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.

Would you have guessed 90%? I'm flabbergasted. . . Particularly because this statistic comes from the NY Times, which is not exactly known for its pro-life advocacy. Elsewhere in the article we read such tidbits as:

Genetic counselors, who often give test results to prospective parents, say they need to respect patients who may have already made up their minds to terminate their pregnancy. Suggesting that they read a flyer or spend a day with a family [to learn what Down syndrome children are really like], they say, can unnecessarily complicate what is for many a painful and time-pressured decision.
So once again, the value of a human life comes down to the degree upon which it impinges on my own. We wouldn't want to "complicate" a "time-pressured" decision, would we? Somebody might have to miss a concert or a party or a business trip if forced to read a flyer or learn something more about the life they're considering terminating. How intrusive.
I don't have kids and probably never will. But you don't have to have kids to know that something about killing people to improve the gene pool and personal convenience is very, very wrong.
I encourage you to read the entire NY Times article (you can register for free). There's actually a positive spin to what's happening, in the form of parents with Down Syndrome kids getting the word out that these are human beings worthy of love. I'm just sorry it's come to this.


  1. Very sad, these verses just came to me for some reason...Matthew 25

    37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

    40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

  2. My parents went through this when my mom was pregnant at the age of 39 with my youngest sister, Amy. When you read the following, keep in mind that my parents were tough, self-reliant, hard working and resiliant people who were raised on farms. Very few things ever affected them emotionally, and when they did, they didn't let it show.

    It was in the 70's, and my parents were having a difficult time with the news that their chance of having a Down's Syndrom baby was high. Mostly because of Mom's doctor. To their credit, they turned to the Catholic church and met with a priest they trusted and liked, who encouraged them that children were gifts from God, no matter what their handicap may be and offered support.

    Although they believed this from the very beginning, it was nice to hear.

    I remember how they tried to prepare us older kids to accept and love a sibling who may always be "different" as well as have special needs and how they were also considering adopting a fifth sibling who would be close in age to the fourth, so they would always have each other. Mom was afraid the Down's Syndrom child would need family since there was such a large age gap between the youngest and the next youngest.

    We moved from North Dakota to Washington state because Mom wanted to be closer to her younger sisters who had kids who were around the new baby's age, again to surround my youngest sibling with as much support as possible.

    The feeling I had was that my parents were going to move heaven and earth so that the neediest member of the family would never have to be alone.

    Amy turned out to be above average in every way and she grew up exceeding our expectations of her. But I never forgot how my parents were initially in pain.

    And for that reason, Mom always said that she understood how some people would not want to shoulder a burden of bringing a mentally handicapped kid into the world. Mom felt that she couldn't do it alone and it helped to have her sisters close by. Not everyone is as blessed as Mom was to have a loving, capable husband, a wise priest or pastor and an extended family who were there for us.

    With pressure from doctors and unfamiliarity with children (I meet more and more first time parents who have never changed a diaper in their lives or even held a baby) as well as never relating with a Down's Syndrome child, and perhaps a non-existent extended family and no church to turn to, most parents probably are too overwhelmed to consider anything but the abortion option.

  3. ...and in the towns surrounding the Nazi concentration camps, people baked bread, sold chocolates, spent time with friends, played games with their children, laughed with their wives, read their Bibles and learned to play Mozart and Beethoven. It was life as usual in Auschwitz. While less than a mile away, naked, emaciated, dehydrated people - human beings - were herded like cattle and killed... for doing no wrong.

  4. Yep. In my missionary days ('79-82), I travelled often to Weimar. Buchenwald is at the top of the hill (there was a cheap hotel adjacent - barely converted from the guard's barracks that it had been - where we sometimes stayed). My impression is that the residents of the 1930s-40s knew what was happening when Buchenwald was operational. But they didn't want to admit it. Maybe some of them were afraid of being shipped off, themselves. You get the impression no one actually supported what was going on up there, but I find that hard to believe.

    It's hard to figure out how this aspect of the citizens' silence/complacency fits into our situation today with abortion, however. There are plenty of outspoken voices on both sides. Whichever side you're on, you probably feel the other side is louder, but at least the subject is being debated. And there are plenty of people in the ambivalent middle, too.

  5. I was talking with a friend who is ethnic Chinese Christian from Malaysia. We were discussing China's one child rule, and she said that it was because China wants a male majority for its armies. As far as I know, I've never heard that from any American point of view. So, if my friend is right, China knew that eventually there would be an imbalance in the sex ratio. How could they not?

    A family from our church is adopting a girl from China and I just saw the pictures of the orphanage. Out of thirty children, there is only one boy and he looks like he has a mental handicap (cute kid!), and there are 12 caregivers. They'll be bringing their daughter home in a few days! She's adorable and a year and a half old.

  6. Choosing to have a child with severe mental and physical problems is a moral atrocity. There's no way to get around the fact that Down syndrome causes suffering in everyone involved, especially the child. The parents who support bringing more people burdened with this illness into the world only want to extend their and their children's suffering to everyone else. They should be named for what they are - evil.

    Every child should be loved and valued - but a fetus is not a child until he or she is born - and what kind of perverted monster do you have to be to want children to suffer their entire life? Only the religious dogma behind the hypocritical "culture of life" is capable of sinking people to this level.

  7. Hi David –

    Thanks for your comments. I certainly can’t accuse you of mincing words! But I obviously don’t agree with what you say. Here are some reasons:

    • “A moral atrocity.” According to whose morals? Where do those morals come from? If it’s a utilitarian morality (value = utility), I’ve got to reject that, because one day I’ll be old and useless, and I would prefer that society or my friends/family don’t use that as an excuse to kill me.

    • “Suffering.” We all suffer. Thoreau said that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”; we all have our emotional struggles and dissatisfactions and setbacks and broken love affairs. But even physically, having a child means I’ll have a kid who will suffer colds, flu, chicken pox, broken bones, cuts, and maybe worse. The only way to avoid all suffering of our children is to avoid having them in the first place. Where, then, would you draw the line between “normal” suffering (I have sinus problems, for example) and “abnormal” suffering (excruciating agony of some type)? Is there some sort of matrix or scoring criterion for determining what qualifies as “severe problems,” which would then be used to determine whether to abort or to carry to term?

    • “Only want to extend … suffering to everyone else.” Do you really believe that? Your comment is awfully reductionistic. Couldn’t they have other motives? Why would they choose to put themselves through all this suffering simply in order to have the possibility (not even the certainty) of encouraging others to suffer, too? Which leads to the next thought . . .

    • “A fetus is not a child until he or she is born.” According to? I suppose “child” is a relative term (no pun intended), so let’s shift the term to “human,” if that works for you, or even “living being.” We all learned in middle school, or even earlier, that a definition of life is cell division. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for life, it’s not hard to make a case that a fertilized egg is “alive” and therefore a “life.” You could argue that it’s life but not human, and that the point of birth is when this entity passes from fetus to human. I think humanness begins at conception, because that’s when life begins. Women who miscarry and even many who have abortions often think of what happened in terms of a life, not in terms of some tissue that is no longer in their uterus. If life/humanness begins at conception, then that changes the implications of the “abort vs. carry to term” discussion.

    • “Perverted monster … [who wants] children to suffer.” I don’t think you have to want the child to suffer. You simply have to believe that killing the child would be an even worse thing.

    • “Culture of life.” Even within the ranks of those who espouse this culture, there are some differences – most notably on capital punishment, where some think it’s an abomination and others think it’s a necessity to pay the ultimate price when you take another life through murder. I’m not sure what you see as being hypocritical, however. To me, culture of life simply indicates that life is inherently valuable, not as a result of utility or of someone ascribing value (“I love you.”), but it is a good in and of itself. Of course, to say that does not answer all moral or ethical problems, but it establishes a presumption that life is better than non-life. To end or prevent life, one must overcome this presumption. If the choice is between that and having to justify one’s existence, then I prefer culture of life. And I do, honestly, see this as a higher level, not a lower one.

    Thanks again for your response. You gave me a chance to think a little more deeply about these things and how to articulate them.

  8. Incidentally, many of the happiest people I know "suffer" from down syndrome.

    Suffering should never be defined by the amount of patience and giving required to care for another person. That is making the assumption that practicing love can only cause suffering.

    Unfortunately, however, without a constant around which you base your moral decisions (and no human being is constant), arguments about morality are like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No matter how far you walk, the target keeps moving.

  9. David Veksler, all that I wanted to say was already said in Arnold's and David Morton's thorough responses. But I do want to add that there are two ways of valuing something or someone. One is extrinsic value--worth based on what something or someone does for you, and intrinsic value--worth based on what something is or who someone is.

    Right now, you might be moving around and functioning physically as a "normal" human being, but that could end with an accident or disease at anytime. One minute, you are a productive person contributing to society and the next minute, you may be worse off than any Down's Syndrome (DS) child would ever be.

    In fact, the DS person--whom we would call Mike-- would be considered advanced in development compared to you, who would resemble Stephen Hawking.

    Extrinsically, that would make you worth less than Mike and me, physically. And worth more than me and Mike, intellectually. But let's say Mike trumps us both in the ability to love department. Hmm, is that worth anything?

    Intrinsically, you would be worth equally the same as me, Mike, and Stephen Hawking.

    Bono said this recently: "It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain."

    Either way, extrinsically and intrinsically, Mike is worthwhile.
    I bet that would really annoy you, to be equal to a mental retard.

    Oooh wait, what did it say in some long, forgotten, ancient document? All men are created what? Would that mean Mike has, gasp, rights? Mike is able to participate in the pursuit of what? Happiness? Like the rest of us? The horror! The evil!

    Sorry, Arnold. I can't be nice today.