Mark W. Leach

‘Fetal Flaw’: the new eugenics rising

Mark W. Leach
By Mark Leach
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August 22, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - This year has seen a rash of medical studies reporting on developments in cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) prenatal testing. Not too long ago, one commentator cautioned that as prenatal genetic testing becomes more pervasive, our society risks developing a “eugenics common sense.” The reporting on the new cffDNA testing suggests that some have already developed this sensibility.

In October 2011, Sequenom, a publicly traded company, introduced its version of cffDNA prenatal testing. As the name suggests, floating in each expectant mother’s blood stream are bits of DNA from the child she is carrying. The new testing procedure tests this fetal DNA and can detect with the greatest reported sensitivity whether the fetus has Down syndrome. Because of false positives, cffDNA testing remains a screening-type test, providing a reassessment of the likelihood that the child has Down syndrome; it is not a diagnostic test, yet.

Sequenom’s competitors Verinata and Ariosa entered the market this year with their versions of cffDNA testing. Like Sequenom, they heralded their testing with medical journal articles and press releases. Reporting on these new tests has employed language with a notable eugenics lexicon.

In his recent column for Slate—headlined “Fetal Flaw”—Will Saletan praised the advances in prenatal testing for informing mothers if they are pregnant with a “defective fetus.” Saletan used the new tests as a wedge in abortion politics. Citing various polls, he argued that it will be difficult for pro-lifers to persuade a majority to be opposed to this new testing, even though Saletan rightly expects that the numbers of abortions will increase. Because it would be difficult to enforce any prohibition against aborting for specific reasons—such as the recent attempt by the House of Representatives to make sex-selective abortion illegal—Saletan almost gloats that the new tests will allow for even more eugenic abortions, i.e., abortions due to the fetus’s genetic make-up.

A month before Saletan’s article, Newsweek reported on the “epidemic of special needs kids.” As the charged word “epidemic” suggested, the article discussed the growing burden of caring for more children with autism and Down syndrome because of the costs of medical care. Almost lamentably, the article notes that these burdens have been somewhat compounded because, due to societal advances in medical care and inclusion in mainstream society, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are now enjoying longer—and therefore costlier—lives.

Burden. Defective. Epidemic. These were terms commonly used in the eugenics era at the turn of the last century to justify compulsory sterilizations and involuntary euthanasia. But raise concerns at the turn of this century over prenatal genetic testing, and, as Mr. Saletan shows, the critics will be dismissed for simply being Luddites, against the advances of technology in the information age. What Mr. Saletan and other proponents of prenatal genetic testing ignore is that while technology may be value-neutral, how it is administered is not.

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The administration of prenatal genetic testing does not happen in a hermetically sealed vacuum. Counseling about prenatal testing is not cut off from the biases and prejudices of society. Rather, it is promoted and administered by an academic, scientific, and professional elite where such bias and prejudice are concentrated.

The medical profession is still largely trained to view humans in a bio-medical perspective: what’s wrong with the patient? And that wrongness is defined by what the professional performing the diagnosis views as normal or desirable. Therefore, it should not be surprising that a profession that exalts those with the highest academic performance would view those with more apparent cognitive challenges as having something wrong with them—as being “defective.”

Studies have found that medical professionals admit that they are poorly trained in both prenatal testing and the conditions currently tested for, the main one being Down syndrome. Moreover, the medical school deans in charge of training them admit that their future medical professionals are not competent to treat individuals with intellectual disabilities. Is it any wonder, given this training, or lack thereof, and the culture in which they strive to succeed, that medical professionals overwhelmingly admit that they would abort following a prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome? Simultaneously, medical professionals have a financial incentive for their patients to accept testing, which provides more revenue for their practice.

It is into these hands that Saletan, and the rest of society, is entrusting the ethical administration of prenatal testing, justified as empowering a woman’s right to choose. This systemic bent toward providing prenatal testing despite the ethical concerns associated with it was demonstrated the week after Saletan’s article was published.

The International Society for Prenatal Diagnosis (ISPD) held its conference where the same testing Saletan writes about is all the rage. Speakers used terminology similar to Saletan’s with a similar perspective: who could be against testing that can identify what they consider a genetic “disease”?

In the very first session of the conference, Dr. Yuval Yaron, Director of the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, argued that testing for Fragile X syndrome should be universally offered, even though he admitted it failed to meet one element of his cited criteria for such a recommendation. According to Yaron, and the World Health Organization, for a test to be acceptable as a screening test, it must be accurate, cost-effective, and identify conditions for which there is a treatment. Currently there is no treatment for prenatally genetically diagnosed conditions such as Down and Fragile X syndromes. Yaron even admitted this. But, echoing the arguments of last century’s proponents of eugenics, Yaron argued that the test should nevertheless be offered to every woman, because an economic analysis could demonstrate that the costs of women accepting the testing could be offset by the amount of public health-care money saved if those women aborted their “defective” fetuses with Fragile X.

Days after the ISPD conference, the TODAY Show on NBC featured a union of the medical profession and the media on developing a eugenics common sense.

Currently, cffDNA testing can only detect a few genetic conditions. Other researchers, however, have reported identifying 3,500 genetic conditions based solely on a sample of the mother’s blood and the father’s saliva. The TODAY Show carried a segment with their senior medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman commenting on these research results. The host asked, “Do you think it raises ethical issues? I mean at what point, if you have information that your child is going to have a genetic problem, and then you’re posed with the question of whether to go forward with the pregnancy?” Snyderman answered, “Well, I’m pro-science, so I believe that this is a great way to prevent diseases.”

In the wake of such statements, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wondered whether our society was on the verge of another era of eugenics. But Douthat states that governmental eugenic policies are “all but unimaginable in today’s political climate.” Put aside that the Obama administration has mandated no-cost prenatal genetic testing as a means of “preventive” medicine. The more fundamental question is: why is the existence of a governmental policy the critical element for raising moral concerns about the eugenic implications of prenatal genetic testing? Is the lesson of the previous eugenics atrocities that viewing others as burdensome defectives ripe for elimination is wrong only when a governmental policy says so? Or, is not the lesson that it is wrong to view another human life as defective, as a burden, regardless of whether there is a governmental policy or not?

But that is the other distinction. As the argument goes: The impact of prenatal testing for Down syndrome is not morally problematic not only because abortion is not governmentally mandated following a prenatal diagnosis, but testing deals with fetuses, not ex utero human beings. Because there is no consensus on the moral status of the fetus, then it is incorrect to talk of eugenics when it comes to aborting a fetus with a genetic condition.

What else, though, do the commentators and medical elite mean when they refer to defective fetuses? Of course, they mean the child that will be born if the pregnancy is allowed to continue. That child, who to them poses a burden or has a disease, is to be prevented through abortion. But defective is in the eye of the beholder.

Again, this, too, is the lesson from last century’s eugenics. While it began with individuals termed “feeble-minded,” it also included those with physical disabilities, homosexuals, and, ultimately, Jews. The progress in civilized society that followed the Holocaust was due in part to the lesson being learned that once a group of people can be labeled as defective, then, so, too, can any other group, depending on who has the power to do the labeling. As a result, civilized nations became more inclusive of all individuals, regardless of race, disability, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, it seems we have an ingrained bent toward finding a reason to discriminate against others. As a result, continual education is required to tame that bent and provide for a civilized society. The recent comments on the advances in prenatal genetic testing demonstrate the continued need for these educational efforts. Earlier this summer, Massachusetts joined states such as Missouri and Virginia in requiring that accurate, up-to-date information be provided to expectant mothers receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and other diagnosable conditions. If there is a role for governmental policy concerning prenatal genetic testing, it is to require this balance in information. Otherwise, we will revert to developing a eugenics common sense and being doomed to repeat the atrocities of history.

Mark W. Leach is an attorney from Louisville, Kentucky, and a Master of Arts in Bioethics 2012 candidate. Mr. Leach gave a poster presentation on the ethical obligation for testing laboratories to provide educational materials with a Down syndrome diagnosis at the ISPD conference. This article reprinted with permission from ThePublicDiscourse.com.

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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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7989 West Virginia Drive, Dallas, where Planned Parenthood is working on secretly opening up a new abortion facility. Google Streetview
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Pro-abortion study: Texas will be down to eight abortion clinics by fall

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By Dustin Siggins

A study by a pro-abortion research group shows that Texas will be down from 41 abortion clinics in July 2013 to eight by this fall.

In July, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that six abortion clinics matched the standards required in HB2, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Those standards include requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of clinics at which they work, a standard already in place, and a requirement that all abortion clinics must upgrade their facilities to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers.

The study estimates that a total of eight clinics will be able to meet the ambulatory standards, including one that will open in the fall. The standards take effect on September 1. According to the study, this means there will be one abortion clinic for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. An infographic from the study shows that the existing clinics will be located on the eastern half of the state, largely near metropolitan areas.

The study's results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, have abortion supporters outraged. Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check writes, "No legal abortion facilities will operate south or west of San Antonio," and that five of the clinics will be operated by Planned Parenthood.

However, the closure of so many clinics is good news to pro-life activists like Karen Garnett, who heads the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in the Diocese of Dallas.

"The closing of abortion facilities in Texas the last few years has been the result of the owners of the facilities themselves not being willing or able to comply with the higher standards of medical safety" required by the Texas legislature, Garnett told LifeSiteNews. "Pro-life activists and leaders in Dallas (and Texas) have been working vigilantly with the members of the Texas legislature the last few years to pass these sensible laws.  There is much to be said for the power of prayer, particularly through the powerful 40 Days for Life campaign and prayer vigils."

While abortion supporters claim Texas is abandoning pregnant women, Garnett said the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas has "helped more than 7,500 mothers choose life outside the abortion facilities," but "we don't stop there."

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"Our Project Gabriel Ministry takes the next step. For those mothers needing and desiring spiritual, emotional and material help, we offer Gabriel Angels, who are paired with them in a one-on-one mentoring and support relationship. We also have a Gabriel Resource Coordinator on staff to help them with practical needs as their situations stabilize." Life skills classes, adoption counseling, and partnerships with pregnancy centers are also part of the Diocese's work to help pregnant mothers.

Jor-El Godsey of Heartbeat International said that there are 326 pregnancy help organizations across the state, which outnumber abortion clinics by approximately 40 to 1. He estimated that approximately 120,000 pregnant women have come to care centers in 2014.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is funded by an anonymous donor, is a five-year effort to "analyze the impact of the measures affecting reproductive health passed by the 82nd and 83rd Texas Legislatures." The project's partners include the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, the pro-abortion Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. One of the project's investigators is Daniel Grossman, whose biography says that "his current research at Ibis includes both clinical and social science studies aimed at improving access to contraception and safe abortion."

The project has also published reports titled "The Public Health Threat of Anti-Abortion Legislation," and "Finding the Twitter Users that Stood With Wendy." The latter examined social media support for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who briefly became a national figure for her support of late-term abortions in 2013.

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