"As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected
and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever
~Clarence Darrow

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where Politics and Law Collide

I have intentionally avoided much comment on the US election. It's not like it's all that relevant here and it's far too divisive anyway. Unless, of course, you enjoy spectator sport.

Until today, that is. Although my attention was grabbed by the headline, "U.K. Mother Murders Daughter Because "Embarrassed" by Disability", I really didn't expect to find much more than the usual macabre story of a parent unable to "cope" with their child's disabilities.

I certainly didn't expect this particular political spin.
This trial, which is still in progress, comes during a week in which the devaluation of children with disabilities has been very much in the media spotlight, thanks largely to Gov. Sarah Palin's much publicized decision to carry to term her son Trig, who has Down's syndrome.

Prominent bioethicist Wesley Smith recently commented on the media bias against Palin, and says it occurs in part because, "Palin is viewed as 'the other,' symbolized by her and Todd's (Palin's husband) loving acceptance of Trig."

Smith said he hopes that the unconditional love the Palin's show to their son Trig will be an example for a world that is evermore justifying murder of the innocent.

"I hope that people will decide to emulate the Palins in their unconditional acceptance and love for their beautiful son, Trig," said Smith.
Well, yes, I hope so, too. But, I still wasn't sure I really saw the connection. Until I read Patricia E. Bauer's blog [which blog, I might point out, looks very interesting from the point of keeping up with Canadian disabiltiy issues].
Andre Lalonde, executive vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), says he is concerned that abortions in the case of Down syndrome may decline as women follow the example of Sarah Palin. Palin’s infant son Trig was born after she received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

From the Globe and Mail:

As a vocal opponent of abortion, Ms. Palin’s widely discussed decision to keep her baby, knowing he would be born with the condition, may inadvertently influence other women who may lack the necessary emotional and financial support to do the same, according to Lalonde.

Dr. Lalonde said that above all else, women must be free to choose, and that popular messages to the contrary could have detrimental effects on women and their families.
Then I got it. Remember this?

Last year, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Board of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists issued a recommendation that all pregnant women be offered screening for Down syndrome. Sounds good, right? Until you consider the fact that statistics point to over 90 per cent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome being terminated.

Which leads to the question of just what exactly parents whose pre-natal screening show that their child will have Downs Syndrome are being told. And perhaps more importantly, what aren't they being told?

It's no real secret that doctors generally paint a very dark picture of life with Down syndrome during prenatal diagnoses. In fact, it's this very situation which has led to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society challenging the ethical implications of the recommendations by the obstetricians’ group. And to the currently circulating Petition for a Prenatal Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act. The Petition we discussed here.

The thing is that if we believe in a right to "choose", if we are ever going to give more than lip service to that concept, we must never forget that the key word is choice. As in making that extra effort to ensure that the choices are promoted in a fair and valid manner. Which means giving giving people all the information they need to such a life-altering choice.

So, please, if you haven't already, read this previous post and give serious consideration to the Petition.

But getting back to Sara Palin, in the words of Krista Flint, executive director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Association:
“We know overwhelmingly the message families get is ‘Don’t have this baby, it will ruin your life,’” Flint says. “And I don’t think people would look at Sarah Palin and see a ruined life. Regardless of politics, I think it’s a good example.”
So love her or hate her (and God knows there's enough of both swirling around the blogosphere), you have to give Ms. Palin credit where it's due ... she might just be bringing into light an issue that has for too long been in the shadows. And that, no matter what your political persuasion, has to be a good thing.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that Dr. Lalonde has apparently attempted to clarify his previous remarks. According to the L.A. Times,
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. Here's a link to the article on which the post, since removed was based.
Which is a good thing, I suppose. Particularly when you consider that one of the principal precepts taught all physicians is "First Do No Harm".

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