Your life is precious, and are we all eugenicists now?
In so-called 'healthy' pregnancies, abortion is legal only up to 24 weeks. But if the unborn child is thought to be at 'substantial risk of having a disability', then termination is legal right up to the moment of natural birth at 40 weeks.
And the NHS has a vast screening programme designed to discover such disabilities. It is principally designed to detect those with Down's syndrome, far and away the commonest form of chromosomal abnormality (and not a disease, however much this is ignorantly repeated).
I take a particular interest in this because my younger daughter Domenica, now 24, has Down's syndrome. She is (I admit to being biased) a wonderful young woman: kind, thoughtful, incessantly cheerful — and often hilariously funny.
Yet when she was born, we were all but told to write her off.
From Dominic Lawson.
This is one of the few moral issues I find clear cut. On most other things I am increasingly unable to maintain an unequivocal position, but it seems almost always wrong to me to screen pregnancies like this. I appreciate that this is not a widely held opinion. But I don't know what level of sophistication moral arguments could reach to persuade me that one life is worth less than another.
At the very least, I am yet to see anyone explain why there is so much support for pregnancy screening and so much disapproval of eugenics at the same time. The two things are often practised differently, but there is an underlying belief that seems to be viewed differently when it applies to lifestyle choices as opposed to being part of a scientific or government programme.
As Mr Rogers said,
As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.
In one episode , Mr Rogers comes in and asks his viewers something like, 'Do you talk to the people you love about the things that make you wonder?' We do not need intellect or ability or any of the other supposed quality-of-life measures to do that.
I worked once with a boy called Tom who had Down's Syndrome. He was charming and brought as much joy to my work as any of the children I encountered. He often made me laugh and in our family we sometimes sing a version of Old MacDonald's Farm that he invented. He had as much character as any of the children we worked with and was spirited and outgoing. The other children treated him as an equal and he engaged with them as fully as he could. They had a way of communicating and operating that was completely natural.
I dread to think what people would say if asked to justify preventing his life.
Every one of us is valuable and equal to everyone else in a crucial, fundamental way irrespective of what we have done. We forgot, when we went secular, that the soul is the greatest metaphor ever created. We are all unique beings, infused with the spirit of something divine. It's just that the uniqueness is genetic and the sense of divinity is the miracle of life. Taking the spiritual element out of existence does not make it less precious or profound.
As Darwin said,
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
We have evolved, scientifically, culturally, economically to a position where people with Down's Syndrome and other conditions can live full and meaningful lives. Perhaps it is our moral evolution that is lacking.
I remember as an undergraduate reading that a tutor in my college had died from Cystic Fibrosis. He was then the age I am now, but he had accomplished far more than I have. I wonder if the people who support pregnancy screening would enjoy a predictive system that would have kept him and eliminated me.
On what basis are we to compare the value of our lives?
What we must remember, amidst our supposed intelligence, is that morals and ethics are often extremely complicated, but often also very simple. Life is precious. How many of the people who were outraged at the recent No. 10 eugenics scandal have actually got uncomplicated views on this subject?
How many of us would refuse the screening for ourselves but not for others?
On a related note, I do hope you are all practising the ebola handshake and other forms of pandemic prevention.