Eugenics is making a comeback.
“Think of the person before the disability.” — a common lesson taught when learning about people with disabilities in school. It is not a disabled person, but instead a person with a disability. The disease does not precede personhood, unless that person can be removed before they are born.
In a new story covered last week, it appears that Iceland is eradicating Down syndrome. Diseases have been cured and eradicated at an unprecedented rate following the introduction of vaccines and inoculation in past centuries, which has proven to be a win for science and mankind. But this story about eradicating Down syndrome is not one we should be celebrating. We are not “curing people,” we are simply disposing of them. The disease is not going away, but those affected by it are. Terminating pregnancies that carry the possibility of a birth defect is in no way the same as preventing an illness — it’s eugenics.
With the world now facing a revival of modern day Nazi movements, one would think that eugenic practices (of which Nazis posses great affinity for) would be exposed and criticized as well. Instead, CBS, who broke the story, is calling for more countries to follow in Iceland’s path. They cannot understand why the rest of the world is “lagging behind” this movement. Under Hitler, the Nazis implemented eugenic policies to “eradicate” Jews, but they started with the mentally disabled, and other “undesirables.” Iceland is using prenatal testing to select who is deemed “a long term burden,” and who will better fit the society they are attempting to create.
A society’s strength can be shown through their treatment of their weak, less fortunate, and citizens living with disabilities. How can a system be praised for doing such great work, such as purging a population of “deformities,” when they are in fact just killing off an entire population? Where does that stop? The next sovereign could decide that another disability is “too much of a burden” and force women to abort those pregnancies as well. Would it stop at physical disabilities? Who is to say race, gender, or possible mental illnesses wouldn’t be seen as a threat to the success of a society? It has in the past.
“Terminating pregnancies that carry the possibility of a birth defect is in no way the same as preventing an illness — it’s eugenics.”
In my personal life, I have daily interactions with a young boy who was born with Down syndrome. Everyone in my neighborhood will tell you, without hesitation, that he is not a burden. He is one of the purest human beings I have ever met. Just weeks ago his grandmother, who is raising the teen, told me all about their adventures they had had over summer vacation, and just how excited he was to begin his school year. For this 75 year-old woman responsible for raising a teenage boy — a feat hard enough on its own — she does not see him and his developmental disorder as something that has burdened her life.
Thanks to the progression of medicine and societal structures, those living with Down syndrome can not only expect a much longer lifespan, but also a more productive and meaningful life as compared to previous generations. Every interaction I have experienced with people living with Down syndrome, has shown me the positive effect these individuals have on those around them. Their parents explain how they have provided meaning to their lives, and have taught them more about themselves than any other situation could. These children provide joy and a sense of purity to the world that I believe the people of Iceland, and the globe, are being robbed of.
A major issue raised by the story is how the culture downplays the emotional toll of terminating these children. In the CBS article, one individual explained how they view the process not as murder, but instead as a blessing to prevent both parties — parent and child — from a life of suffering. Iceland is propagating the idea that a life with Down syndrome, is a life not worth living. That a third party, can decide what is worthy of life, is a totally immoral concept. As for the two to three children who “slip through the cracks,” they are labeled “false negatives” who were unfortunately missed and therefore born. We should not be congratulating this movement, instead we should be running as far away from this eugenic practice as possible. The world has become a much more forgiving place. It’s time our humanity reflects that.
Follow this author on Twitter: @mollie_finnegan