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very insightful post.

Posted by tiffany | September 15, 2008 3:29 PM

Reminds me of the Doonesbury strip that took on creationism, the TB patient offered medicine that was created or the newer type that was evolved:

Religion really will only take you so far.

Posted by Chris B | September 15, 2008 3:33 PM

I normally agree with just about everything you put up on SLOG, but this one doesn't seem right.

You seem to be arguing that having Down syndrome is a fate for the child worse than non-existence. I am pro-choice but fail to see how you can argue against someone bringing their pregnancy to term. I am anti Palin and don't agree with her reason (God) for ruling out an abortion, but it is after all, her choice.

She would of course argue otherwise.

Posted by J | September 15, 2008 3:35 PM

Good one, Charles.

Posted by Sweeney Agonistes | September 15, 2008 3:41 PM

Please do not confuse "average life span at birth" with whether you would see many people over that age. It is a common fallacy that an "average lifespan" in earlier times of, say, 35 meant that you would see very few 50 year olds. This is not true -- the average lifespan was low because of high infant mortality. "Average lifespan of people who live to 8 years old" is a much more interesting statistic.

Also, the imposition of medical science on birth (midwifery at home being replaced by doctors and anaesthesia in hospitals) greatly increased the risks associated with childbirth until the mid 20th century.

Posted by Fritz | September 15, 2008 3:45 PM

I hate Sarah Palin as much as the next responsible American, but J @3 is right...this one doesn't sit right with me. She chose to have and raise a child with Down Syndrome. While this in no way qualifies her to be Vice President of her playgroup, let alone the country, it was her choice. She had the freedom and, more importantly, the resources to follow through on this decision -- this kid is going to grow up in a loving, well-off family that is able to provide and care for him, albeit with a batshitcrazy mother and a name I would call retarded if that weren't in really terrible taste.

You can twist Palin's religious beliefs to expose political hypocrisy as much as you'd like, but this post is just cheap shots and lazy reasoning.

Posted by MK | September 15, 2008 3:45 PM

Thanks for this post. I'm a science kid and biology student and these sorts of ideas have been rolling around in my head for awhile but you've articulated them quite cleanly. Excellent.

Posted by Jo Spot | September 15, 2008 3:46 PM

Usually i like what you have to say too but this is a little John McCainesque.
My wife and I are expecting are first child after trying for months and months and spending rediculous amounts of money at SRM (Seattle Reproductive Medicine) and getting up every morning at 4:00 to work out before we went to work to improve our chances. This week he had to decide wether we wanted to get the screening for Downs syndrome, and my response was whats the point! we're going to have the baby anyway. Even though it would not be advantageuos to us politically! or financially. It would still be worth it to me to have the opportunity to have my own child that came from my wife and I.

Quit playing by McCain's Rules!

also check out

he really wants to get everyone saying that the "Republicans are the Party that Wrecked America"

Posted by Daniel Allen | September 15, 2008 3:49 PM

The only reason you don't fucking freeze to death in Alaska is because of science. And science lets you drill for oil. Science invented the wiretap and the tanning bed. So yeah, obviously, these people have no idea what they are doing, but they don't care. Like the Taliban, you can explain all this and they'd still rather live in a cave.

Posted by elenchos | September 15, 2008 3:50 PM

There is nothing unscientific about choosing not to abort. Science only provides the tools to test, and the tools to abort. It does not dictate what should or must be done.

Posted by ams | September 15, 2008 3:53 PM

I, too, usually agree with what is said here. But: it is a slippery damn slope from "it is the scientific decision to abort a baby that may have downs" to euthanasia or forced sterilization of people with "undesireable" traits. It all comes from the presumption that "we" are medically normal and we know that death/abortion/non-existence would be better than living with a disability... or a special need.

I am pro-choice and I very, very much disagree with the assertion that any rational person would make the "scientific" decision to abort in this situation. There are many reasons for keeping/ending a pregnancy. God, convenience, and science being only a very few.

Posted by Jessie | September 15, 2008 3:56 PM

Also in abortion news... that girl with "What to Expect When You're Aborting" blog finally had her abortion.

Posted by Carollani | September 15, 2008 3:57 PM

@6 --- exactly. This doesn't help anything. The point is that it's her choice. The only angle on this story that is relevant is that she would like to deny that choice to other women.

Also, "virtually risk-free" just isn't so. Amniocentesis (still the standard of care, I believe) has a 1 in 200-400 chance of accidentally terminating the pregnancy. That's what the magic number 35 is about. By 35, all else being equal, your chance of having a baby with Down syndrome (or etc) is high enough that the medical profession believes the risk-benefit ratio works out.

(There are other, less invasive pre-screening tests that you do first to help decide whether to go for an amnio.)

Oh, and about anesthesia during childbirth: That's a whole other ball of wax. If you haven't done it, don't talk about it.

Posted by Pro-choice | September 15, 2008 4:00 PM

Usually you're so thoughtful with your words, but "the rational and even humane thing", that was clumsy.

There is no reason, no logic, no definitive truth behind when life begins. It's sometime after conception and before the first unaided breath. What we do know is that this entire process takes place inside a woman's body. Only she can choose what that means to her.

Posted by blank12357 | September 15, 2008 4:02 PM

This is the first mudede post that has ever made sense to me.

Posted by dc | September 15, 2008 4:03 PM

I could never love a child that was mentally retarded. I would ask my wife to abort. If she didn't, fine, but I could never love it.

Posted by FYI, people that think like me are among you. | September 15, 2008 4:08 PM

Wow, I actually find this post to be really offensive - and anti-choice. If you follow a "science only" approach, one might find that "life" - that point at which a living being is created- begins at conception, which could lead to (and does by anti-choice advocates) the argument that abortion should be illegal. If you believe in choice, you argue that when life begins is a matter of belief, or religeon, or non-belief. It's your choice.
Also, your assertion that a person with downs doesn't deserve to live, or that they are living a life not worth living, is really arrogant. I think there are many people and friends and relatives of people living with Downs that would absolutely disagree.

Posted by scharrera | September 15, 2008 4:12 PM

@13: I was going to say the same thing about "virtually risk-free." One in 200 chance of damage to the fetus doesn't seem risk-free to me, which is why I believe they only recommend the procedure for women after forty. Since amniocentesis is actually not risk-free, it doesn't make sense to me that Palin would consent to the procedure if she wouldn't at least consider abortion in some circumstances. So she's a hypocrite even more so.

@3: I think Charles was saying that the embryo/fetus is a "no-thing" rather than a Down's syndrome child. Charles is actually making a coherent - and insightful - point here. Once in a while it does happen. My only complaint is that he could have chosen a sexier picture of a pregnant Salma Hayek.

Posted by PJ | September 15, 2008 4:16 PM

@16: While I can't comment on you as an individual, my experience is that most parents of children with diabilities actually love their kids more than the average parent, perhaps because the children are so dependent on them.

Posted by PJ | September 15, 2008 4:22 PM

I take your point and appreciate your dilineation the irony of Palin's position. As someone who works in maternal and infant healthcare, I have to take exception with the idea that Palin's baby, or any trisomy 21 baby should not live at all, or could not live at all, without science. Trisomy 21 babies have been born for as long as we have records of birth. They tend to live past their 30's now because of scientific advances in health care but they have always had their own lives and awareness nontheless. I have always respected any woman's decision not to carry a pregnancy such as this, or any pregnancy for that matter, to term but I also respect and even admire the determination to raise a child which one knows to have problems which will make it more difficult to care for. It may not be rational but I have met many trisomy 21 carriers both as children and as adults and can only say that, once born, they are as worthy of life as anyone else.

Posted by inkweary | September 15, 2008 4:28 PM

Charles, this is some lazy ass philosophy right here. Go read Berube's Life As We Know It, a great account from a careful thinker about raising a child with Down's syndrome. Then take a peek into the enormous bioethics literature on disability and selective abortion. It is simple intellectual laziness to assert as you do here that there are no non-religious, science-compatible reasons to choose not to abort given a DS prenatal diagnonis.

Posted by ben | September 15, 2008 4:28 PM

The short lifespan thing of the past is a canard. Yes, we live longer now, but the primary reason average lifespan is so much higher is lower infant mortality. Prior to modern medicine, if you made it past childhood, you had a damned good chance of living to sixty, particularly if you were lucky enough not to live in Europe's filth laden cities. Remember, if half your population lives to 100, but the other half dies at birth, you get an average lifespan of 50. Doesn't sound so hot, but in such a society, anyone who survives being born has a century ahead of them.

Posted by Gitai | September 15, 2008 4:43 PM

Wow - I dislike the republican ticket, and Gov. Palin in particular, as much as anyone here... but this is the most arrogant, ignorant, ill-posed argument I have read in quite some time. Clearly, Charles, you've never spawned. It might help you grow a little as a person, and even help you begin to understand your political and social enemies better... so that you can pick better battles to fight.

Simply ridiculous.

Posted by bryan | September 15, 2008 4:54 PM

btw: how do you know Palin was tested for the gene? Did she say so? It's highly possible she refused the test.

Posted by scharrera | September 15, 2008 4:58 PM

Almost hits the mark but not quite. As a geneticist I, too, enjoy pointing out to my fundie friends the irony of ranting about the evils of science on their cell phones while taking antibiotics. But Palin could have had a kid in her 40's without scientific intervention, even a Down's syndrome baby - people had babies in their 40's and 50's a hundred years ago, too, the infant and maternal mortality rate were just much higher. If she wants to selectively ignore data and make emotional personal decisions that's her business, but I'd hate to see her force other people, especially pregnant women, to make their decisions her way. Should someone with access to vast personal resources get to set the policy for the rest of the country, when many pregnant women and their families lack access to even the most basic resources and information? She had a choice and access to the best available data, and so should everyone else.

Posted by lab monkey | September 15, 2008 5:01 PM

Science is God.

Posted by Betsy Ross | September 15, 2008 5:06 PM

I am pro-choice.

Sarah Palin had a choice to keep the baby, or abort it.

She chose to keep it.

That's fine with me.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | September 15, 2008 5:24 PM

I don't think anyone has thought of this yet but this kid is going to outlive Sarah Palin. When she and her husband dies who will be responsible for him? Palin's other children maybe, but maybe the kid will end up in an institution. Most Downs syndrome people don't live independant lives (independant of family or state aid). If you are not rich and you don't have anyone to take care of your adult DEPENDANT child, they will probably end up in the states care. As somebody who's family has worked for those state agencies and institutions I can say this, abortion is kinder.

Posted by yucca flower | September 15, 2008 5:25 PM

@28, I would guess that the youngest child's siblings will take care of him if he outlives his parents.

Posted by ahava | September 15, 2008 5:32 PM

I have met Salma Hayek. I have held her baby. There is nothing unusual about either.

I just wanted you to all know that I met Salma. The end.

Posted by Matt Fuckin' Hickey | September 15, 2008 5:34 PM
Posted by charles mudede | September 15, 2008 5:34 PM

Chuck. Finally we agree on something. I too (as I must assume you do) support prenatal gender tests for the same reason. Science has provided the capability for mothers in societies that do not value daughters the ability to "do the rational and even humane thing: return to nothing that which was still a no-thing".

Same for all those ugly dark haired babies! Finally, science is giving us the tools to groom the population to be tall, male, muscular, blond and blue eyed. It makes no sense for us not to.

Your such a douche bag...

(And for those of you who should have been aborted for being "mentally deficient". I'm being sarcastic. But don't tell Chuck.)

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 15, 2008 6:38 PM

@25 Very well said.

Posted by inkweary | September 15, 2008 6:39 PM

I just have to chime in with the rest of the folks on that life expectancy thing. Yes childbirth was dangerous, but generally people who made it to adulthood had a good chance of living to at least their 50's or 60's.

Childbirth certainly was dangerous, but many women still made it through just fine - even at Sarah Palin's age. Your survival prognosis had a lot to do with pelvis size, access to good nutrition, and preventing of infection after childbirth.

Posted by History Nerd | September 15, 2008 6:58 PM

This is bullshit. If you're for freedom of choice, you've got to be for freedom of CHOICE, even when you don't agree with it! If I want a conservative to give me the benefit of the doubt to have an abortion even if it's not the choice they would make, then I have to give them the same benefit of the doubt.

Posted by sara | September 15, 2008 7:29 PM

You know all these odd stories about the pregnancy - she didn't look pregnant at 7 mos.; the strange long trip home while in labor, etc. Sounds to me like she was hoping God would do the abortion for her. Not having gained sufficient weight to look preg at 7 mos. probably means she was continuing to diet and work out. The long trip home? Give this defective kid the best possible chance to die upon delivery with a long slow trip to a lesser equiped hospital.

Posted by Cat in Chicago | September 15, 2008 7:49 PM

@36, my understanding is that that is exactly what was circulating around the grapevine in Alaska during that time.

Posted by ahava | September 15, 2008 8:11 PM

Your risk for having a baby with Trisomy 21 does not "drastically increase" once you turn 35. It is a gradual increase. The reason amnios are recommended after 35 is because the risk for miscarriage from the amnio (about 1 in 200) at that point becomes slightly less than the risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome. THAT"S IT. There is no magic moment when women suddenly become unfit to have genetically normal children. I's sick of hearing all this misinformation. In fact, you are much more likely than not to have a genetically normal baby EVEN AT AGE 49. You have a 90% chance of a genetically normal baby at that age.

Golob is a fucking idiot, too. You DON'T terminate based on a first trimester blood screening test. That is absolutely insane. It is an indication for further testing, including amnio or CVS. There is no doctor in his/her right mind that would recommend terminating based on the first trimester blood screen.

Also I think the people who are saying disabled children are better off not living are cruel and heartless. That is all.

Posted by An "older" mother | September 15, 2008 9:12 PM

Abort the Downs, then just the retarded, then when holy science finds the criminal gene abort them too. And hey won't it be ironic when the homo gene is discovered and christians using your logic will relieve the gay suffering in kind? We'll see a 180 in the choice crowd only then.

Posted by danrand | September 15, 2008 10:01 PM

FYI: lots and lots of women, including the mother of my child, give birth to perfectly healthy babies when the women are in their 40s--after having conceived with absolutely no intervention of science whatsoever. Let's not generalize women. I'm one of three children myself, and the youngest of us was conceived unintentionally when my mother was 45, but that sibling is perfectly healthy, too.

The incidence of chromosomal abnormalities does increase with advanced maternal age, as it's called, but the incidence is actually also still VERY low. We underwent all possible testing because we would have aborted if there were a problem, but that was our choice.

Similarly, I would not criticize Sarah Palin, whom I find the scariest possible person to be a vice president, for choosing to have a baby with Down's syndrome. Again, she had a choice. Most people with Down's go on to have very fulfilling lives full of love and happiness and things to learn and people to get to know--an education, jobs, and in some cases even their own families. These are *human beings* we are talking about--not pets. To be born with Down's is not necessarily some God-awful hell. It's a different life than most of our lives, a life of challenges, but it can be a beautiful and fulfilling life all the same.

Posted by Simac | September 15, 2008 10:22 PM

Someone with Down's syndrome can lead a very happy and meaningful life. To imply that an abortion is the right choice when faced with a handicapped child is quite insulting! It's up to the parents to decide whether or not they can handle it. I fear for a world where people would be expected to abort any child that's slightly abnormal.

Posted by Griet | September 15, 2008 10:36 PM

Hey Grandma Mom! Charles may have his stats wrong, but the chance of ANY birth defects increases to 1 in 700 after age 35. Not exactly what I would call gradual. I's a-calling bullshit on your 90% safe number.

You sound just like so many other 40something Mothers I've met who try to justify their decision of having a child at such a late age.

Not mention the fact that you'll be 65 when your kid graduates from High School.

Posted by Tammie | September 15, 2008 11:16 PM

any woman can do whatever they want with their pregnancy. but to FUCKING BLEAT about it after, as in "look how pro-life/honorable/martyrish/fa-la-la i am"? that is despicable. a baby is not a political device, and having or not having one does not make you a better person.

Posted by pretentious | September 15, 2008 11:20 PM

Nice to see Eugenics is alive and well in Seattle!

Posted by LT Nixon | September 15, 2008 11:26 PM

Grandma had a baby at age 44 when medical science had barely progressed past the forceps. He turned out OK

Posted by nerd central | September 15, 2008 11:31 PM

@42- 1 in 700 is way less than 1%, so I don't get your point. I have friends who's parents were in their 60's (hell, one friend's dad turned 70) soon after graduation, and there really isn't anything wrong with them. Actually, they tended to have more resources to raise their kids because they waited so long, and their kids ended up going to university etc. more than the kids of the 40 year olds.
You sound pretty judgemental and bitter.

Posted by ams | September 16, 2008 4:07 AM

So many commenters have said it better than me but, no matter what your view on abortion, I find it extremely offensive that you would attack a woman for choosing to continue a pregnancy (whether that child had a chromosomal abnormality or not). This does smack of Eugenics - and I know that this world would be a much poorer place for all the people who might not be in it if their parents thought as you do.

Posted by Beth | September 16, 2008 4:35 AM

Charles I thought you were a Marxist, it turns out you are a Nazi.

Posted by Mike | September 16, 2008 5:59 AM

Amazing. What exactly does "pro-choice" mean anyway. Is it only okay if someone agrees with the choice YOU would make? The more anti-religious you get, the more assinine you get. How dare you pressume to know what is best for another family. You don't want her to choose for you, but you would choose for her? Grow the hell up.

Posted by Stella | September 16, 2008 7:30 AM

You're sick. I'm going to use this post as a counterpoint to every thick-skulled lefty loon who spouts the tired line, "pro-choice doesn't mean pro-abortion!" It most certainly does, as you've so aptly illustrated. Otherwise, you would have been perfectly fine with this woman's personal choice. But no, because she didn't make the choice you deem correct, she's condemned. Blatant hypocrisy.

Posted by clockwork | September 16, 2008 8:28 AM

Dear 40 and 41, so well put. Thanks.

Posted by Some of us like people | September 16, 2008 9:23 AM

i agree with some of the other comments... you would have made a great minister of propaganda for the nazi eugenics program...

Posted by joe | September 16, 2008 9:59 AM

Y'know, it's possible to be an atheist and believe that disabled people have intrinsic value as human beings, and even rights, and even deserve to be decently treated. It's not only christians who raise and love children who are unfortunate enough not to number amongst the ubermenschen.

Science is a wonderful thing. It allows us to understand the world around us, and to make all sorts of practical progress, and understand our place in the universe. It doesn't actually give us any guidance on whether it's better to kill people we think are inferior or not, indeed it doesn't give any guidance on who may or may not be inferior at all. That's a matter of moral reasoning and you need some kind of grasp of the moral issues and ability to reason to do that.

You should do some historical research also. Long forgotten now, buried even, are the roots of the abortion argument. The anti-abortionist cause came about, like the anti-evolutionist cause, from a revulsion at what many of the scientists and activists promoting the then-new evolutionary theory were in favour of- eugenics and the breeding of a master race. In the end a certain German chap actually tried that, and it didn't work out so well, and eugenics was quietly dropped. But the naive pseudo-scientific reasoning that leads to eugenic ideas always lurks and indeed seems to be on the rise again. If you discard your humanity, if you discard basic moral values, such as respect for human life, if you discard such irksome irritations as the question of who is qualified to judge the worth of one human being compared to another, if you discard all the messy complexities of human existence, it makes perfect sense.

I'm not religious. But this outrageous denigration of her choice to raise and love a disabled child is something you should be ashamed of. But thanks for publishing it, as it is a fine example of why technocracy is a disastrous philosophy.

Posted by Ian B | September 16, 2008 10:16 AM


You don't know how old I am, so go fuck yourself.

And why don't you read some real statistics and learn some math? 1 in 700 is significantly less than 1%, is it not? That is more than a 99% chance of a genetically normal child. Even a 10% chance of a genetic abnormality is a 90% of a genetically normal child. Sorry you are too stupid to understand this simple fact.

Oh, and chances of other birth defects do NOT go up with maternal age. The only risk that goes up is the risk of chromosomal abnormalities.

Did I mention you are an asshole?

Posted by An "older" mother | September 16, 2008 10:26 AM

Good job baiting the hook, Chuck.

Posted by muggims | September 16, 2008 10:41 AM

Thanks for making my point for me that some people ARE pro-abortion, not pro-choice.

At least you don't make a pretext of "tolerance" and "diversity" to cover up your bigotry against people with disabilities.

Posted by Christina | September 16, 2008 5:06 PM

Most of the commenters don't seem to understand the distinction between 1) whether a person's life is worth continuing, and 2) whether a person's life is worth starting. In particular, it may well be the case that a life that is worth continuing once started should never have been started in the first place.

An abortable foetus, as Charles rightly (but not uncontroversially) notes, is not a person. The person a part of whose body's history the foetus is does not yet exist at the time at which the decision to abort is made. Therefore, the choice is not whether to kill a disabled person as opposed to letting them live. The choice is whether to create a person whom one knows will suffer (to some, possibly even a very small extent) from a disability, as opposed to creating no person at all.

Charles is right to suggest that, since at least prima facie we have moral obligations to prevent unnecessary suffering (even if small), and no prima facie obligation to create new persons, the choice to carry a foetus with known debilitating conditions to term is morally problematic.

Commenters who seem to think that this is equivalent to advocating euthanasia for already existent disabled persons, or advocating the curtailment of rights for the disabled, are being philosophically obtuse, at best. The irony in the calls for Charles to learn about ethics is simply precious.

Some should consider picking up moral philosopher David Benatar's recent book, Better Never to Have Been, as remedial reading.

Posted by Philosophy Prof | September 16, 2008 7:26 PM

Additionally, being pro-choice does not require one to think that all reproductive choices are morally correct. It is a stance one takes on whether certain kinds of actions ought to be socially sanctioned.

For instance, one might think that abortion is always morally wrong, but that there are good reasons for it to be legal nonetheless. A person who held such a view would, however, not be barred from criticising the moral judgement of those who choose to exercise such a legal right.

That is to say, there is nothing at all self-contradictory in Charles's being pro-choice and criticising Palin's choice give birth to a child she knew would be disabled (especially if, as it is likely, she made this choice for dubious reasons).

Posted by Philosophy Prof | September 16, 2008 7:38 PM

It would be useful if one of those people declaring that a foetus is "not a person" could plainly declare what their definition of a person is. What defines personhood, what is a foetus lacking that makes them an unperson, and at what precise point the unperson becomes a person?


Posted by Ian B | September 17, 2008 7:39 AM

Philosophy Prof you have failed to even provide a marginal base for your "arguments." At what point does a "no-thing" become a human life? What does being abortable have to do with being a human life? Babies can be, and have been, delivered well before other babies have had their lives abruptly ended, so obviously being abortable is no sort of logical test for being a human life or not.

And on that note, how can we, as Charles suggests, "return to nothing that which is a no-thing." How can anything return to nothing if it is nothing to begin with? That would imply that it is, in fact, something, would it not? That's only the beginning of this truly sickening argument.

You also fail to describe the suffering of a Down Syndrome human. In what way does it suffer? As many poster's have described, and you've ignored, many humans disabled in this way lead happy lives and enrich the lives of others as well as their own. I'm anxious to see your reasoning as to why this could not possibly be the case.

On a personal level, it's horrifying to see not only drivel like this being published, but obviously educated people like you supporting it. The mental gymnastics it must take to justify a stance like this would make a sane person keel over in exhaustion.

Posted by clockwork | September 17, 2008 11:19 AM

The whole point of being pro-choice is that the woman has a choice. I'm offended by the idea that choice should only be extended to women who are bearing perfect babies and imperfect babies must be terminated as the only humane course of action. Not only does your position restrict the rights of women to chose what to do with their bodies, it also smacks of eugenics.

Posted by judy haley (coffeejitters) | September 18, 2008 1:36 PM

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