The Irrational Assumptions Allowing Elimination of Down Syndrome

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George Will writes powerfully against the West’s efforts to “eradicate” Down Syndrome:

An Iceland geneticist says “we have basically eradicated” Down syndrome people, but regrets what he considers “heavy-handed genetic counseling” that is influencing “decisions that are not medical, in a way.” One Icelandic counselor “counsels” mothers as follows: “This is your life. You have the right to choose how your life will look like.” She says, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended.” Which makes Agusta and Lucas “things” that were not “ended.”

Because Iceland’s population is only about 340,000, the problem (again, see the photos of problem Agusta and problem Lucas) is more manageable there than in, say, the United Kingdom. It has approximately 40,000 Down syndrome citizens, many of whom were conceived before the development of effective search-and-destroy technologies. About 750 British Down syndrome babies are born each year, but 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have — actually, that their child does have — Down syndrome have an abortion. In Denmark the elimination rate is 98 percent.

For many — maybe most— political or ideological positions with which I disagree, I can imagine my way around to understanding how reasonable differences about assumptions can lead people to conclusions with which I disagree.  Especially with improved medical imaging technology, the reach of my imagination cannot make a pro-abortion stance reasonable.  (I’ll also acknowledge that my thinking was objectively unreasonable back when I held that monstrous view in my youth.)

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Aborting a pregnancy because a screening is suggestive of Down Syndrome is tantamount to saying, “My child will have a developmental disease; let me kill him or her before it becomes more morally complicated for me to do so.”  The underlying assumptions that make such a statement seem rational must be either irrational or morally repugnant.



  • Christopher C. Reed

    “Pharmacologic doses of folic acid and iron appear to have a preventive effect against Down’s syndrome.”

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