Today’s new eugenicists

Of the blogs I look at regularly, one that I have often visited and am often enlightened by is Wesley J. Smith’s Secondhand Smoke. Smith says his blog “considers issues involving assisted suicide/euthanasia, bioethics, human cloning, biotechnology, and the dangers of animal rights/liberation.” There are a lot of issues he deals with that are not isolated to the world of science but rather intersect with our lives every day.

For example, the whole furor around the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be vice president by John McCain has brought to the forefront the issue of Down syndrome children and the divergent views about whether people should knowingly give birth to children with this condition. I have already given my views on the subject on this blog, but there are certainly those who disagree as seen just by comments posted here.

Physician and writer Rahul K. Parikh gives what by all appearances is a concerned response to Palin’s decision in an article in Salon:

By knowingly giving birth to a Down syndrome child, Palin represents a minority of women. A 2002 study found that about 90 percent of pregnancies in the United States where the fetus was diagnosed with Down syndrome were terminated.

Rabid anti-choice activists have called that trend eugenics via medicine. But try telling that to a mother who is told early on in her pregnancy that she will be raising a child who will have a host of medical and developmental problems, requiring intense medical and social attention for the rest of his or her life. It can be tragic and nearly impossible news to bear.

Kids with special needs require and deserve intense therapies and attention to their needs. That’s likely something Palin, with her political and social stature, can afford both financially and emotionally. But that may not be the case for other families, who have to struggle to balance work with home and family. They simply may not be up to the challenge of raising a child with Down syndrome. Sadly, kids with developmental problems like Down syndrome are at a higher risk for being abused by parents and other caregivers.

And if you can’t provide that, what should you do? Well Parikh doesn’t say, but by labeling Palin “anti-choice” gives the reader a pretty good idea. Yes, let the mother choose, but not the child. Of course it seems compassionate to consider the poor mother and family of a Down syndrome child and what they will have to face. Smith addresses such “compassion” in an article “Waging War on the Weak” that he wrote for the Discovery Institute:

(The “new eugenics”) perceives some lives as having greater value than others, and which in some cases sees death—including active euthanasia and assisted suicide—as an appropriate “solution” to the problems of human suffering. The original eugenics movement expressed this relativistic view of human life through hate-filled rhetoric; for example, eugenicists described disabled babies like Miracle in terms that today would be considered hate speech. Thus, as recounted in Edwin Blacks’ splendid history of eugenics, War Against the Weak , Margaret Sanger took “the extreme eugenic view that human ‘weeds’ should be ‘exterminated.’”

Today’s new eugenicists are not that crass, of course. Indeed, rather than screaming hate and pejoratives from the rooftops, they instead ooze unctuous compassion as they croon about a “quality of life” ethic and preventing the weak—against whom they are secretly at war—from “suffering.” But behind the politically correct language, and indeed, hiding within the hearts of those who perceive themselves as profoundly caring, lurks the same old disdain of the helpless who offend because they remind us of our own imperfections and mortality.

This kind of thinking is subtle but deadly. Smith does a great job of exposing this kind of thinking in his blog. Are these issues important or is this just a big fuss over little things? No, not when you consider that health care is a major issue in this election.


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