My wife and I have had to make a series of decisions that will, to varying degrees, affect the future of our child: whether to get an ultrasound, how many ultrasounds to get, whether we are going to pursue “natural” childbirth, whether to use the services of an obstetrician or a midwife, etc. However, as we’ve wrestled with these questions, we’ve been certain of one thing: we don’t want to do any genetic testing for our child. The reasons are many, but Kevin over at Wizbang has summarized our thoughts on the matter far, far better than I believe I could:
On both occasions when offered the chance for amnio tests we turned them down. Our decision was simple; if we had found out that we had a child with Downs coming (for example), would we still have the child? Our answer was, ‘yes.’ This obviated the need for genetic testing. Conception and child birth in humans and animals is not a perfect process – there are all manner of miscarriage, defects, and death – but the incidences of things going wrong is statistically very low, and lower with quality prenatal care.
For all the advances in reproductive and neonatal medicine there’s still an element of what I’ll call “the divine” (you may substitute “the mystical,” “the magical,” etc.) in the process. We are closest to God at birth and death, and when we inject ourself into the process we automatically change “the divine” outcome. This is not necessarily a bad thing, plenty of people are saved from heart attacks, etc., it’s merely instructive to note that we’ve changed the outcome that was naturally occurring.
In the process of conception there’s a natural process in action, which for many couples is broken. Modern medicine offers much better odds of overcoming infertility and delivering healthy babies. One thing about medicine and pregnancy worth noting, in my opinion, is that it is possible to get too much information during pregnancy. Prospective parents are full of conflicting emotions as birth approaches and there are all sorts of tests that can signify all sorts of problems (or in many cases just the possibility of problems) for the developing infant.
By and large doctors fail to prepare parents for the ethical dilemmas they could face if prenatal tests reveal issues. Getting news about the possibility of genetic abnormalities can throw a parent, a family, or a marriage, into turmoil which the medical profession doesn’t even try to address. My belief is that unless you know (in advance) what you’d do with the information an amnio test might provide, you’re asking for trouble.
If you don’t know what you’d do if a genetic test showed that you had a child with Down’s (for example) on the way you’d be better off skipping the tests entirely. If you think you know what you’d do, read that Times article again…
The LA Times article in question (WARNING: registration site. Hit BugMeNot for a username and password) tells the horrific story of a woman from Wichita, Kansas who decided to abort her son at 7 months in order to “spare” him the pain of a genetic disorder screening had revealed. It starts out thusly:
The moment is burned forever in her mind: The small exam room, her husband’s ashen face, her sobs as the doctor guided a needle into her womb to kill her son.
It’s been 4 1/2 years, and still Marie Becker can feel Daniel kicking inside her, kicking and kicking as she choked back hysteria â€” kicking until the drug stopped his heart and she felt only stillness.
How can anyone read that passage and maintain a pro-abortion stance?
What hurts me most about these sorts of stories is just how little faith in God the people in them seem to exhibit. The article continues:
She prayed Daniel would forgive her.
She prayed for forgiveness from God as well. Becker had been taught that abortion was a sin; she wanted so to believe it might also be a blessing. In her seventh month of pregnancy she had learned Daniel had a fatal genetic disorder and his life would be brief and brutal. She wanted to spare him that.
Ms. Becker obviously knew what she was doing was wrong and didn’t believe that God could possibly work in and through the situation. No matter how many times I read similar accounts, I just want to sit down and cry.
As I sit here at my desk staring at the ultrasound of my child, I wonder how anyone could conscience taking the life of one so innocent, so defenseless, no matter what their situation.
More horrendous than Ms. Becker’s story, however, is the story (also in the article) of Katie Plazio:
For Plazio, the heartache began with the unexpected. After a decade of infertility, she was stunned to feel a kick to her ribs as she sat through a meeting in February 2001. She had been dieting for weeks, running five miles a day â€” and wondering why she still couldn’t squeeze into her pants. She was six months pregnant.
Overjoyed, Plazio and her husband scheduled an amniocentesis. The preliminary results were clean; bursting with excitement, Plazio, then 43, bought a baby blanket dotted with pale blue bunnies. Ten days later, her doctor called with devastating news: More complete genetic tests had determined that their son had Down syndrome.
Plazio had studied special education in college; working with adults with Down syndrome, she had seen their lives as lonely, frustrating, full of hurt. She was not sure she could find joy in raising her son to such a future. She didn’t think she could cope with what she expected would be a lifetime of sadness and struggle.
Giving her son up for adoption seemed even worse â€” to wake each morning not knowing where he was, imagining him scared and alone. “I could not live with that fear all my life,” Plazio said.
“I don’t want anyone to think that I did this all for Matthew,” she said. “I was not just sparing him problems. I was sparing my daughter, my husband, me and all those who depend on meâ€¦. I knew the limits of my family and my marriage. Maybe there are families who can handle it all. Maybe they are better people. But I knew I could not do it.”
In March 2001, a week into her third trimester, she and her husband flew to Tiller’s clinic. They took the bunny blanket and a teddy bear with a big red heart on its chest â€” a gift to the baby from their daughter, then 11.
Since her abortion, Plazio has suffered such severe panic attacks that she can’t drive even as far as the high school to watch her daughter cheerlead. She has gained 60 pounds as she battles depression. The abortion she sought to preserve her mental health has left her deeply shaken; doctors say she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Her mental health, she is convinced, would be even worse had she tried to raise a profoundly disabled son â€” or had she given him up for adoption.
I believe her actions to be utterly deplorable. Downs is not a life-threatening condition – far from it! The level of indifference and near ruthlessness exhibited in Plazio’s decision just breaks my heart.