Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The end of Down syndrome and the rise of the modern eugenics movement

Down syndrome will become very rare within US schools by 2020.
Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus - New York Times

...About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion...
90%. We may be sure that abortion will not go away in the US, though it may lose public funding.

Since Trisomy 21 is not a rare cause of cognitive disability, this will slightly reduce special education costs in the US starting 6 years from today.

The Times article describes people with Down syndrome advocating against the diagnostic test. This is similar to deaf persons arguing against the use of acoustic nerve prostheses. Whatever social noises we may make, abortion is a pretty clear statement of honest perception. I don't think the advocacy will change the numbers, and I don't think our modern eugenics movement will stop with Downs syndrome. Many less disabling disorders will be also aborted. If we devise gene testing for dyslexia or Asperger's ...

I have personal reasons to both understand and empathize with those who campaign against the abortion of children of Down syndrome. Much that is good and joyful will be lost to parents and to society. The neurotypicals who will instead be born will, I suspect, produce greater harm than the Down children who will never be.

Remember, it won't stop with Down syndrome. We will have our eugenics movement, for better and for worse.

Update 5/11/07: Steven Levitt, the well known economist and writer (Freakonomics), has a poignant comment on this topic. He's not asserting a position, he is speaking a truth. I would not have chosen the life I now live, but I would not undo it either.

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