Thursday, 10 May 2007

The New Eugenics Movement

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued recommendations regarding the prenatal testing of women in the first trimester for Down's Syndrome in utero. The press release can be viewed here. It reads in part:

All pregnant women, regardless of their age, should be offered screening for Down syndrome, according to a new Practice Bulletin issued today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Previously, women were automatically offered genetic counseling and diagnostic testing for Down syndrome by amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) if they were 35 years and older.

The new ACOG guidelines recommend that all pregnant women consider less invasive screening options for assessing their risk for Down syndrome, a common disorder that is caused by an extra chromosome and can result in congenital heart defects and mental retardation. Screening for Down syndrome should occur before the 20th week of pregnancy.

Obviously such tests can be helpful in the identification of children which will require special care immediately or soon after birth. But such tests also provide for the occasion of many abortions in the search for "perfect" children. A very high percentage of mothers who find that their child has Down's Syndrome will abort the child.

George Will, a well known commentator weighs in:

Nothing—nothing—in the professional qualifications of obstetricians and gynecologists gives them standing to adopt policies that predictably will have, and seem intended to have, the effect of increasing abortions in the service of an especially repulsive manifestation of today's entitlement mentality—every parent's "right" to a perfect baby. Happily, that mentality is not yet universal: 214 American families are looking for Down syndrome children to adopt.

And a neonatologist, the father of a Down's child has some comments:

The obsession with “perfection” in pregnancies is, in my view, a result of many factors. To be fair to obstetrical providers, some of it has to do with legal considerations. More important, however, is that we have lost the ability to see the value in imperfection. Only perfection matters. Most of us deny our own imperfections (we are human) and cannot appreciate that a child, no matter how “different”, is a gift. In an age in which many children are raised by day cares, nannies or public schools, children have become a possession, albeit an important one, but a possession nonetheless. Why shouldn’t “it” be perfect?

As humans, decisions such as abortion are accompanied by a significant amount of emotional baggage, namely guilt. Society, including the obstetrical community, has gone to great lengths to mitigate this distasteful feeling. We assuage these feelings by the knowledge that “we are saving the unborn child from a life of suffering and pain.” Counselors made available to families with difficult diagnoses have great expertise in the pathology that accompanies a multitude of syndromes and genetic disorders. These counseling sessions invariably include the topics of mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and quality of life. Rarely in my experience are these potential parents ever exposed to families who have recognized the gift given them in an “imperfect child”, families who have made the decision to keep their child. You mention CF, Dean, and it is a great illustration of this conundrum. Let me mention another in more detail - Down Syndrome - as another great example of a potential diagnosis in which parents are often counseled without exposure to sources who can describe what life is like with a child with Down Syndrome.

It is physicians who guide the population in issues of health. We must always seek to bring truth and goodness to those that we seek to heal. As Catholics, we are called to bring Christ with us to the office, the operating room and the laboratory. We must bring light to the darkness of utilitarian and misguided policies of those professional organizations to which we belong.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us physicians and for all mothers that they will see their children as a blessing regardless of their condition.

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