The spotlight on Trig Palin at the GOP convention, writes Michael Gerson, comes at a time when we need to have a civil-rights debate about those who are born “less than perfect.” Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by prenatal testing each year, about 90 percent are eliminated by abortion. And the American College of Obstetricians recently recommended universal early testing for Down syndrome, not just for older women. Some say increased screenings will reduce the number of Down syndrome births to fewer than 1,000 a year, compared to the 5,500 a year we now have:
This is properly called eugenic abortion — the ending of “imperfect” lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of people who have disabilities. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption — “Didn’t you get an amnio?” — and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependent are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.
In management training, it is sometimes stressed that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” — in other words, holding out for the best can keep us from doing our best. I’d say that applies here, too. Dismissing those who are less than perfect makes us fail to appreciate the common humanity we all share. Gerson has a great description of those with Down syndrome: They “learn slowly but love deeply.”