Recently, The Atlantic published an article, “The Last Children of Down Syndrome,” by Sarah Zhang, in which she explores the effects of prenatal testing in Demark. Denmark is among many Nordic countries that provide taxpayer-paid prenatal testing for Down Syndrome and other genetic anomalies. In Denmark, more than 95 percent of those who receive a DS diagnosis choose to abort their child. In 2019, only 18 children with Down Syndrome were born in the entire country.
While Zhang claims to present readers what she calls an “emotional ground truth” by giving pros and cons to the DS abortion debate and “humanizing” all choices, her real underlying goals are clear: to give her readers the justification for modern-day eugenics and to dismantle society’s natural aversion to selective breeding.
Zhang provides interviews from parents who chose life and those who chose to abort their child pre-natally diagnosed with DS. She also discusses the history of eugenics. Zhang correctly points out that many people are uncomfortable admitting that they support or have had an abortion because of a disability, especially since Europeans are sensitive to the history of extermination and forced sterilizations for the “feeble minded” in Nazi Germany. To her credit, Zhang interviews bioethicists David Wasserman and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, who explain the moral dilemma that technological and scientific advancements present medical professionals as more genetic abnormalities are identified.
However, her article is also filled with sympathetic testimonies from those who validate their decision or their support for abortion as a means of eliminating the hardships and sacrifices that come with caring for a child with special needs. For example, one woman complained that her child with DS is frustrated with his communication limitations and resorts to biting and fighting with his siblings. The mother, who says she “loves her son,” nonetheless admits, “We would have asked for an abortion if we knew.”
Interestingly, Zhang points out the internal hypocrisy felt by many of the mothers who chose abortion, specifically northern Europeans who fancy themselves progressive and “tolerant.” Lou, one of the mothers she interviewed, confesses, “I think it’s because we as a society like to think of ourselves as inclusive. We are a rich society, and we think it’s important that different types of people should be here.”
Zhang explains: “Their own self-understanding is a little shaken, because they have to accept they aren’t the kind of person like they thought.” In essence, many of the parents who chose abortion experience profound guilt for their decision because it conflicts with the “inclusive” value system progressive societies, such as Denmark, like to think they have.
Zhang also suggests that the guilt felt by women who chose abortion can be blamed on society. She quotes anthropologist Rayna Rapp, who criticizes how society views choosing to not have a child with a disability because of one’s career as “selfish.” Additionally, she argues, “medical technology can offer women a choice, but it does not instantly transform the society around them. It does not dismantle the expectation that women are the primary caregivers or erase the ideal of a good mother as one who places no limits on her devotion to her children.”
We live in an increasingly “non-judgmental” world, which is why more and more women, including celebrities, are trying to break taboos about abortion by publicly saying they are proud of their abortions. In Demark, the culture is far more open and accepting of abortion than the United States. Their culture is even more secular and there are far fewer moral stigmas around the decision to abort.
Therefore, it is difficult to understand how we can blame Danish “society.” Rapp’s explanation offers no answer for why one of Zhang’s interviewees who chose to abort her DS child two years earlier, and who stated she had “no regrets,” sobbed profusely during her interview. Perhaps the dilemma cannot be so easily to reduce to a societal construct.
The underlying message of Zhang’s article can be found near the end, when she quotes the head of Denmark’s National Down Syndrome Association, Grete Fält-Hansen, who has an adult son with DS. Even she can’t bring herself to make a full-throated defense for the right to life of her son and other defenseless and powerless humans who happen to be born with a disability.
“I feel sad about thinking about pregnant women and the fathers, that they are met with this choice. It’s almost impossible,” Fält-Hansen said. “Therefore, I don’t judge them.” No judgment is the central theme of this story, which doesn’t do much for a population that is being exterminated at a rate that would make the Nazis envious. Zhang concludes by stating, “the stakes of our conversation were very real and very human,” a rhetorical trick to create sympathy and understanding for eugenics and a modern-day genocide.
Yes, Zhang tries to “humanize” the pro-life and pro-abortion views. That might seem fair on the surface, but there is nothing “humane” about the pro-eugenics side of the argument. Lest we forget, the greatest human rights causes in history, such as slavery, were fought and won by people willing to draw a line in the sand and call evil by its name.
This article is a perfect example of the selectivity of leftist outrage. Think about the moral arguments generated by a smirk from a 16-year-old Covington Catholic school boy. Compare that to Zhang’s rationalization for a real-time genocide of arguably the weakest and least powerful population in the world. Not only has Zhang not been criticized for her moral ambivalence towards eugenics, she has been applauded by countless blue check-marked liberal elites for her “humanity’ in handling this moral issue.
Whether your justification is to “spare… [potential] suffering,” decrease strain on a universal health care system, or on public taxes, or you want to have a career, or you are worried about potential health concerns for your child, killing a disabled child is still wrong. There is no “humanity” in killing a child. There is no “humanity” in targeting the weak. There is no “humanity” in eugenics.
I do, however, agree with Zhang and the women she interviewed on one point: Down Syndrome can be hard, both on the family and eventually, on the person living with it.
My little sister Valentina is a little more than one year old. She entered this world with difficulty. She was a preemie, born one month early. She had to spend seven weeks after birth in the NICU. She was born with a heart condition, which is common among people with DS, and went into surgery to have two holes in her heart closed and her heart valves repaired. She had many long months of trouble eating and gaining weight, which required patience and sacrifices from my parents and our family.
However, just because her life has had some difficulties doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. She is the joy of our family. Ask any of my other seven younger siblings and they will all say their favorite family member is Valentina. Since her surgery, she has been thriving. She smiles and plays, and we recently discovered she loves music and has an incredible sense of rhythm.
Our family is able to provide for little Valentina’s needs. Some families understandably cannot. A glaring hole in Zhang’s lengthy article was adoption. Adoption is always an option, and there are many families desperate to love a child, including ones our society sadly deems “imperfect.” Adoption is the most humane option for the child and the mother who fears she cannot care for that child because it acknowledges the struggles, worth, and humanity of both.