-UPDATED: September 19th, 10:35 PM The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists contacted the JDP to indicate that the College does not ‘recommend that all pregnant women regardless of age be screened for Down syndrome.” It rather recommends that all pregnant women regardless of age be OFFERED screening.
An American company has given Japan the gift of easier, earlier, and accurate pre-natal testing for Down syndrome. Amazingly, the medical profession in Japan is hoping to halt the widespread implementation of this new diagnostic method which it fears will lead to the “casual use of abortion.” Contrast this with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists which has long recommended that all pregnant women regardless of age be offered screening for Down syndrome during their first trimester.
Japan also hasn’t yet allowed simple tests from America that can be used early in a pregnancy to find out the sex of a baby into the country. For some reason, it seems Japan isn’t eager to provide its citizens with early, detailed information about babies in the womb.
Already research has found that 90% of women in U.S. who get a diagnosis of Down syndrome choose abortion. The new test will allow earlier diagnosis which will make the choice for abortion even easier. Eventually, newborns with Down syndrome will largely disappear from hospital nurseries across America, the bastion of human rights.
Japan is a nation that traditionally has a hard time with “diversity” and “abnormality.” They have lagged behind America in support for those with special needs, though they have worked hard to catch up. Yet the Japanese medical profession seems to have a sense that we’re starting down a dangerous path. In reading the news reports here about the new test, you can feel the caution with which it is being received and also the resignation that it will be hard to stop.
One may assume that raising a Down syndrome child is a heavy burden that may be unendurable, but in a survey of 2,044 parents or guardians of children with Down syndrome, 79% said their outlook on life was more positive because of their child. Well, you may ask, “How do these children feel when they grow up and have to face life?” The same research conducted by Children’s Hospital Boston found that 99% of adults with Down syndrome surveyed said they were happy with their lives; 97% liked who they are; and 96% liked how they looked.
However, as the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania commented, “…[due to] the fact that ours is a society obsessed with perfection in ourselves and our offspring and, the climate for having kids with Down syndrome, happy though they may be, is not good.”
Abortion is supposed to be all about choice and control. However, as I have seen in Japan, quite often the pregnant woman loses her freedom to choose. While I can’t comment on what happens in America or other countries, in Japan, a group-oriented society, women are often pressured to abort by the people around them. Even married women are sometimes pressured by mothers, mothers-in-law and husbands to abort third children since it is considered financially infeasible to have more than two.
I know of a woman who insisted on having her fourth child against the wishes of everyone in her family. When her child was born with a disability, she was told (and continues to be told) by family members that this was punishment for her selfishness.
Here when a child is born with disabilities (or when someone gets sick, has an accident, etc.) the underlying belief of many is that this is punishment for something the person has done. It’s safe to assume Japanese women who get a positive diagnosis for Down syndrome will often be shamed into having an abortion.
Unfortunately, my experience has been that many Japanese women who have abortions also believe their unrelenting grief is punishment for having the abortion and that to seek relief is wrong.
We have deified choice, and in the end, it will turn on us. Improved technology will mean that parents will know more and more about their child before it’s born. Soon, parents will have no excuse not to know whether or not their unborn child has Down syndrome. How will society look on parents who choose to bring an “imperfect” child into the world?
Many already openly say they don’t want their tax dollars going to help support these kinds of individuals and go so far as to advocate for eugenics. Will parents eventually be blamed for not getting rid of these and other “drains” on society? How about parents who give birth to babies diagnosed in the womb as likely to have chronic illnesses? Will society end up pressuring parents either directly or indirectly to only give birth to perfect citizens?
It’s called a “slippery slope.” We always laugh at naïve people who warn that things could get out of hand. In 1973, when abortion was legalized in America, we were assured it would never become common. 50,000,000 abortions later, we know that was a mistaken prediction.
You can see where a slippery slope can lead in The Netherlands which long ago legalized prostitution and now is one of “the top eight countries of origin for identified victims of mostly forced prostitution” (The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report). We think doing away with all restraints will set us free, but in the end we trade our light ropes for heavy chains.
There’s a little guy I know who laughs at the silliest things and is almost always ready for a hug and kiss. When I look at him, I can’t help but smile, too, even when I’m all stressed out about nothing very important. If I will just sit down and let him climb into my lap, he’s content. And then, I begin to be. Since he’s come into my life, I am a different person…less self-centered, softer. His Japanese parents also made a choice when he was unexpectedly born with Down syndrome. It was a hard choice, too, but one we can all live with very well…adoption.
Note: I know some wonderful Japanese mothers of children with Down syndrome. I also know of several Japanese couples who have adopted such children. I enjoy a very good government-sponsored support system here for my son for which I am very grateful.