No, There Is No “Troubling Persistence” of Eugenicist Thought in America


Andrew Sullivan points me to a piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty bemoaning the “troubling persistence” of eugenic thought in America. But Dougherty’s evidence for this is tissue-paper thin, especially in his credulous treatment of the high abortion rate among women with Down syndrome babies:

In an article that explores this sympathetically, Alison Piepmeier writes:

Repeatedly women told me that they ended the pregnancy not because they wanted a “perfect child” (as one woman said, “I don’t know what ‘perfect child’ even means”) but because they recognized that the world is a difficult place for people with intellectual disabilities.

If the numbers on abortion and Down syndrome are even remotely accurate, the birth of a Down baby is something already against the norm. As medical costs are more and more socialized, it is hard to see how the stigma attached to “choosing” to carry a Down syndrome child to term will not increase. Why choose to burden the health system this way? Instead of neighbors straightforwardly admiring parents for the burden they bear with a disabled child, society is made up of taxpayers who will roll their eyes at the irresponsible breeder, who is costing them a mint in “unnecessary” medical treatment and learning specialists at school. Why condemn a child to a “life like that,” they will wonder.

Oh please. 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. The more prosaic truth is simpler: Most of us aren’t saints, and given a choice, we’d rather have a child without Down syndrome. You can approve or disapprove of this as you will, but that’s all that’s going on here.

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