It was very disturbing, since it came out about the same time that abortion on demand was becoming an established feature of American society. It's almost a given that couples will want to abort babies identified with Down syndrome, Trisomy 18, Fragile X, and a variety of other genetic anomalies that entail intellectual disabilty in those who have them.
But what if the baby would be entirely normal and grow up to be homosexual? People were rattled by the implications. Little did we realize at the time what “brave new world” awaited us down the line.
Now statistics are indicating that one in 88 babies born today will have autism. And since most people with autism are male, this means more like one in 50 boy babies will be born with an autism spectrum disorder.
So far it seems like there won't be a simple genetic explanation for autism, but rather a whole range of possible players involved. But still, at some point we'll probably be able to detect. And then what?
Ninety plus percent of babies identified with Down syndrome are aborted today, and that's for a disability with an excellent reputation. (Well, assuming the prospective parents every get to hear about it in the first place. Usually all they hear is “looks different and has an IQ of 50.”)
It's ironic and puzzling that just as we begin to rid society of–let's call it what it really is–eradicate one kind of human being, we start having an upsurge of another kind. What does it mean, if anything?
Cantor Steve and I were talking about this during his visit a few weeks ago. We remarked on the fact that the very advances in medical technology that enable us to seek and destroy babies with disabilities in the womb are also responsible for saving millions of lives that would previously have been lost through car accidents, battle, and other forms of mayhem and destruction.
They survive, yes, but often very damaged, functionally little different from people born with preventable disabilities.
No surprise, I have my own thoughts on that. I believe that for far too long society has compartmentalized policies into narrow little boxes that enable us to make choices that really do not fit into a coherent whole.
I have never heard a parent of a child with Down syndrome, or autism, or traumatic brain injury say, “I wish he had never been born,” or “I wish he had died in the accident.”
I know they exist, but they must be very rare, because I have known literally hundreds of parents of kids with disabilities. And not only among the parents of cherubic happy kids with Down syndrome, but parents of kids with autism whose behavior was so challenging that they literally had to lay aside their own lives for years and years.
I once read that parents who get a prenatal diagnosis of Downs and abort are much more liable to be divorced and/or depressed a year later than parents who allow the child to be born.
I know when pressured to get tested during my last pregnancy, at age 42, I could only think, “But that seems so inhospitable, to invade my child's sacred space like that.” Whoever was in there, I wanted to meet him or her face to face.
And yes, she has Down syndrome. I was less than thrilled to become the mom of a child with a huge disability. But lying there on my chest after delivery, was a person. I can't at this point imagine going through life without having shared it with Kelly.
And the point of all this inchoate wondering?
Just this: I believe there is a divine plan to bust up all those little boxes.