These women were lying. The reason they had abortions is because raising a Down syndrome child is a tremendous amount of work and, for many people, not very rewarding. But that sounds shallow and selfish, so they resorted instead to an excuse that sounds a little more caring. Far from being afraid of eye-rolling neighbors who disapprove of carrying the baby to term because it might lead to higher tax rates, they’re explicitly trying to avoid the ostracism of neighbors who would think poorly of them for aborting a child just because it’s a lot of work to raise.
This has nothing to do with eugenic thought one way or the other.
One woman from the in-tray admits as much:
I don’t think it’s because of eugenics, stigma, or fear of being judged by the other mommies. It’s about fewer and fewer couples feeling like they could meet the challenges of a Down syndrome child in a way that’s fair to them.
So, I’m pregnant right now.
I hope I don’t have a Down baby, and I am sure I would consider abortion if it were screened. Why? Because I am a working future-mother and pretty-much sole breadwinner. It requires a lot of privilege and stability to feel comfortable raising a child with such serious disabilities. I doubt I have the extra time it would take to be an adequate parents to a Down child while also making enough money to support that child financially, and I certainly don’t have the extra money to get specialized care, which goes beyond both the medical and beyond what insurance will pay. It’s not about not wanting the “burden,” but knowing that in today’s society, I don’t have the resources to be the kind of parent a child with so many extra needs deserves to have. If I were a millionaire, it would be one thing. As someone who makes mid-five figures, it’s a very different decision.
The legacy of eugenics has always been troubling, and Gattica paints a picture of a slippery slope that we should guard against. But I rebel against the idea that we should resign ourselves to the fate of natural law and evolution. We can and do surpass unguided natural processes and medicine is no different.
It may sound harsh to say it, but Downs syndrome is not like having an odd hair color or even blindness. It is a condition that places substantial burdens on family members and society for the life of the person. It is a condition that usually makes the person unable to engage in society as we know it, let alone become a productive member in any normal use of that word.
I have a cousin with Downs syndrome and I respect him as a person. But I wouldn’t wish that condition on anyone. Surely there is some middle way between Gattica and mindless acceptance of the evolutionary roulette wheel.