A recent CBS news report revealed that Down syndrome has been virtually eliminated in Iceland. Some 85 percent of women in Iceland undergo prenatal testing, and when test results reveal a diagnosis of Down syndrome, nearly 100 percent of the mothers opt for abortion.
At present, only one or two children per year are born with Down syndrome in the entire country.
Iceland was characterized in the report as leading the world in eliminating Down syndrome, which would be great news if it had developed a new treatment to correct this chromosomal abnormality — like the Salk vaccine which virtually wiped out polio. But in this case, it isn’t a medical condition that is being eliminated. It’s people. Unborn children with this condition are destroyed before they have a chance to live.
Their deaths are certainly not for their benefit, even though one medical professional described the procedure as preventing suffering. To be sure, the human condition is rife with suffering, and efforts to alleviate it are laudable. But we all know Down syndrome children and adults who live happy, productive lives. In fact, it’s safe to say that our lives are enriched when we experience the zest and resilience with which those with Down syndrome face life, despite their limitations.
So it’s difficult to see how ending their lives in the womb alleviates “suffering” — unless, of course, you’re talking about the “suffering” of those who might be inconvenienced by the extra effort required to care for them.
Even some pro-choice folks are surprised and upset by this news. They shouldn’t be. Haven’t they argued for decades that abortion is a private, individual, health care choice and shouldn’t be restricted in any way? Haven’t they fought tooth and nail to preserve the right to abortion on demand for pretty much any reason? Why should they be dismayed when men and women choose to avoid the challenge of caring for a Down syndrome child by means of therapeutic abortion?
And it isn’t just in Iceland. Somewhere between 67 and 90 percent of parents in the U.S. choose abortion when their unborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
The great evil here is that children with Down syndrome are deemed inferior, undeserving of life. There’s a term for this: eugenics, which is defined by Oxford dictionaries as “the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Developed largely … as a method of improving the human race, it fell into disfavor only after the perversion of its doctrines by the Nazis.”
Eugenics attempted to “improve” the human race by eliminating those considered genetically inferior. Though it is claimed that the Nazis perverted the science of eugenics by attempting to eliminate the “inferior” Jewish race, the Holocaust was merely the logical outcome of the doctrine of pursuing genetic superiority. After all, once you start down that road, who gets to decide who is inferior and not worthy of life?
At one time, in this country, blacks were considered less-than-fully human, and were bought and sold like appliances. We are currently witnessing a widespread movement to pull down the statues of those who supported that evil institution. It seems odd and a bit ironic that so much energy is being expended to punish long-dead proponents of slavery. Only lunatics still believe that folks with a different skin color are somehow inferior, and slavery as an institution was abolished a century and a half ago.
But right now — today — entire nations and cultures, including our own, are actively condemning an entire class of people to death because of their supposed inferiority. Will the same outrage and energy be unleashed to fight for respect, equality — life itself — for those with Down syndrome, those delightful, beautiful, brothers and sisters of ours in the human family?
Sadly, I doubt it.
David S. Milz is a Lutheran minister in Kimball, Minn.