Saturday, September 13, 2008

Faith-Based Condescension and Reproductive Rights

A few days ago Michael Gerson wrote a column describing Trig Palin as having "smashed the chromosomal barrier" by being proudly displayed by his mother at the Republican convention. Typical of Gerson, he offered a very superficial analysis of the issues and makes childish digs at the Democratic Party and attempts to advance a dishonest label ("eugenic abortion"), but it seemed mostly intended as a "feel good" piece - celebrating the erosion of the barriers between the mentally handicapped and the rest of society. What's a little "faith-based condescension" between friends, right?

No, Gerson has to take things a step further,
Dr. Andre Lalonde, the executive vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, is "expressing concerns" that a "prominent public role model as the governor of Alaska and potential vice president of the United States completing a Down syndrome pregnancy may prompt other other women to make the same decision against abortion because of that genetic abnormality. And thereby reduce the number of abortions." This, Lalonde feels, would be problematic, because of women who aren't "prepared to deal with the consequences" of a Down syndrome child.

Many parents, of course, are not "prepared to deal with the consequences" of having a child, healthy or disabled - though this has nothing to do with the worth of such children once they are conceived. Down syndrome children are slow to learn and have physical challenges. They are also, in my experience, often loving and compassionate - which is an advantage they have on Dr. Lalonde.
Reading Gerson's rant, it occurred to me at this point that Gerson knows nothing about Dr. Lalonde, save for a second-hand account of his views on this single issue.

The original blog post Gerson found contained a (supposed) paraprhase of Lalonde's views,
He says not every woman is prepared to deal with the consequences of Down babies, who have developmental delays, some physical difficulties and often a shortened lifespan.
Gerson misrepresents these words as having come out of Dr. Lalonde's mouth:
This, Lalonde feels, would be problematic, because of women who aren't "prepared to deal with the consequences" of a Down syndrome child.
Worse, the author of that original blog post, Andrew Malcolm, didn't even get his facts straight. The post has been flushed down the memory hole, and replaced with a notice of error:
Doctor Lalonde's point of view should not have been portrayed as a concern that the number of abortions would decline but rather, as expressed in the Globe and Mail, that women would be influenced by Gov. Palin's decision to keep Down syndrome children that they were neither emotionally nor financially prepared to care for.
A columnist more intelligent or less lazy than Gerson might have even checked the original article before transforming an erroneous, second-hand paraphrase into a quote.
Giving women balanced information about the potential consequences of either decision does not mean they are being encouraged to abort their pregnancies, Dr. Lalonde said.

"We offer the woman the choice. We try to be as unbiased as possible," he said. "We're coming down to a moral decision and we all know moral decisions are personal decisions."
So yesterday we had Gerson lying about the statements of liberals, and using Christopher Hitchens, neither a liberal nor a Democrat, as his case in chief. Today we have Gerson fabricating a quote based upon another blogger's misinterpretation of a very simple article, to purport,
A claim like this one tears away the pretense of "choice" among some in the medical community.
At least Christopher Hitchens exists.

It's not a lie, as such, for Gerson to draw a false conclusion based upon what appears to be his incompetence - he apparently doesn't know the difference between a quote and a paraphrase, and doesn't have even a slight understanding of why you should check the purported sources of a blogger's information, particularly when the blogger hands you a link. He had a knee-jerk reaction based upon his preconceptions, and didn't much care about the morality or ethics of what he was doing. But to attempt to tar any portion of the medical community based upon something one doctor didn't even say? If somebody that incompetent worked for me, he would be looking for a new job.


  1. I don't think Gerson understands either Down Syndrome or eugenics. Down Syndrome significantly reduces fertility in females, and almost all non-mosaic Down Syndrome males are infertile. If he's going to complain about somebody trying to protect the gene pool from Down Syndrome, the first place he needs to point his angry finger is toward God.

    Among other health problems, Down Syndrome babies often have problems swallowing and intestinal obstructions. About half have heart defects. Historically, a Down Syndrome baby with an intestinal blockage might survive a couple of weeks, with death hastened by any attempt to give her food. So historically God sentenced a lot of Down Syndrome babies to an absolutely miserable death, and many others to short lives due to heart failure.

    Add to that other common health problems, such as poor muscle tone, seizures, cataracts at birth, and it really seems like God has something against Down Syndrome kids.

    The fact is, many Down Syndrome kids now survive in spite of God's will, not because of it, because we can now surgically intervene to correct the problems that historically would have killed them. Some of them reproduce. And it has been the political left at the forefront of extending education and rights to the mentally handicapped.

    Has Gerson ever written a word in support of Down Syndrome kids and their needs after they're born? I somehow doubt it. Like so many self-professed Christians, that seems to be where his interest in human life and dignity ends.

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  3. A more challenging column for Gerson would not involve the mere recitation of right-wing evangelical talking points, and would explore the difficulty faced by the parents of mentally handicapped kids as their kids reach the age of reproduction. How do you handle birth control? Do you consider sterilization? How does the child's capacity enter the picture - not just the capacity to understand pregnancy or to raise a child, but the capacity to protect herself from sexual predation.

    Or he could stick with the same subject yet address the cases that trouble thoughtful ethicists. What if the baby has a medical condition that consigns it to a short, empty life. What if life-extending surgery will only add to a baby's misery? Genuine ethicists who work with these babies and their parents have been wrestling with these issues for generations. Gerson has apparently paid them no heed, as he simply knows the answers to all questions based upon his own personal brand of evangelism.

    The ultimate ego - he knows God's will and if you want to know what it is, all you have to do is read his column.

  4. Dyspepsia and Jackson said it perfectly, but I just wanted to chime in as a teacher of kids with special needs.

    The rates of special needs kids who are victimized is astronomical. For instance, I had a kid last year who was totally blind and no working memory. Can you imagine a better victim? No way could he testify in court. What is Gerson and his ilk going to do to help with that? I didn't exactly see them lined up at my classroom door....

    And, I also like to point out that about 1/3 of all pregnancies spontaneously abort before their third month. So God sentences kids to disabilities and is an abortionist. Er, if you believe certain folks....


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