The L.A. Times’ Pointless Correction on Abortion and Down Syndrome
Editorial by John Jalsevac
September 16, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Last week the L.A. Times ran a story: “Canadian doctor warns Sarah Palin’s decision to have Down baby could reduce abortions.” The story, based upon a Globe and Mail report, explained that Dr. Andre Lalonde, the executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, is worried that Sarah Palin’s decision to give birth to her Down Syndrome son, Trig, could lead fewer women to choose abortion for their Down babies.
However, the L.A. Times now says that its story was all wrong and it has apologized for “mischaracterizing” Lalonde’s remarks. The Times says that it should not have said that Dr. Lalonde was worried that Palin’s example could reduce the Down abortion rate. Instead, it should have emphasized that Lalonde was worried that her example might “pressure” some women who “lack the resources” not to abort their Down children – even though the paper clearly explained this in the original story.
The question, then, is this: Is there a substantial difference between these two “characterizations” – enough, at least, to justify a correction?
In the first case, we have a doctor who is worried there may be fewer Down abortions. In the second case, we have a doctor who is worried that some women may be “pressured” into not aborting their Down children. The obvious logical extension, however, of women being “pressured” into not aborting, is that they do not abort, and that, therefore, there are fewer abortions. Hence, it would seem that Dr. Lalonde is indeed worried that the Down abortion rate will drop: which is precisely what the original L.A. Times story indicated when it reported that the doctor was concerned Palin’s example, “may prompt other women to make the same decision against abortion because of that genetic abnormality. And thereby reduce the number of abortions.”
This is not, of course, to say there is no difference at all between the two “characterizations.” Obviously there is a question of “‘framing”, and framing is a very crucial thing. For instance, if you tell someone that if they undergo a particular surgery they will have a 90% chance of survival, that sounds pretty good. However, if you instead tell them that they have a 10% chance of dying, the situation no longer sound so cheery. Both statistics mean the same thing, but sound quite different to the patient who wishes to continue living, because of their different emphases.
Apply this to the case at hand. If you say that a particular doctor is worried that there will be fewer abortions of Down children, he comes off cruel. But if you instead say that he is concerned that some women may be “pressured” into choosing not to abort a Down child, he comes off compassionate. But in both cases the same thing has been said – because of Palin’s example fewer women may abort their Down syndrome children, and this is a worrisome thing. As long as one explains the fine details of why the doctor is worried (that he believes some women do not have the “resources” to have a Down child), no misstatement of fact has been made. The L.A. Times did this, and therefore its apology is superfluous.
But Dr. Lalonde is, in all likelihood, not a cruel man (indeed, he is probably a fine chap on the whole) and perhaps, therefore, an argument could be made that framing his statements in such a negative light is unfair to the man and his noble motives. However, while that may be so, what is most certainly true is that, no matter how noble his motives, Dr. Lalonde said a very cruel thing, even if he thought that he was being compassionate.
It is disturbing to the highest degree that at a time when up to 90% of Down syndrome children in Canada are aborted (and the rate is even higher in other parts of the developed world – up to 95%), Dr. Lalonde’s first reaction to the heroic and highly public story of a mother choosing to embrace the challenges of raising a handicapped child, appears to have been to worry that it might lead other women to do the same thing.
It is simply impossible to make a convincing argument that in modern day Canada 90% of women who become pregnant with Down syndrome children lack the emotional and financial support to take care of a handicapped child. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We have social services, including universal healthcare and programs for children with special needs, coming out of the wazoo. We pride ourselves on being a “compassionate” country. Indeed, if ever there was a society that was able to care for citizens with Down syndrome, this is it. And yet we kill them at a rate of up to 90%. Why?
While I do not wish to trivialize the difficulties of raising a handicapped child, the astronomic proportion of Down syndrome children who are killed before birth sends an abundantly clear message – we don’t want them. We don’t want Down syndrome children. We don’t like them. They are a pain to care for. They make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t meet our standards. And therefore, we will wipe them out.
We have discovered the cure for Down syndrome, and it is death. This is eugenics – a subtler, quieter, gentler eugenics – but just as cruel and arrogant as ever.
What some would apparently call “pressure to abort” – Sarah Palin’s example – is what, back in the good old days, when people still had spines, would have been called a “good example.”
Indeed, what Dr. Lalonde could have said, but most conspicuously did not say, is this: “The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada welcomes Sarah Palin’s courageous example, and hopes that it will encourage Canadian women who do have the emotional and financial resources to embrace the difficult challenges of caring for a Down syndrome child, and not to abort. And as for those women who do not have the resources to care for such a child, we will ensure that every possible resource is put at their disposal so that they no longer feel backed up against a wall, so that they have the freedom to choose to have and to care for their child.”
It all comes right back to the question of framing, doesn’t it? Some cast Sarah Palin’s example in a negative light, framing it as unwanted “pressure.” Others, however, who believe children with Down syndrome have just as much a right to be born as any other child, are grateful for the challenge that Sarah Palin has just thrown out to the developed world – the challenge to create a more humane society that does not marginalize and kill its undesirables.
As Krista Flint, executive director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, explained in the Globe and Mail piece that started it all, “Many of the country’s medical professionals only give messages of fear to parents who learn their baby will be born with the genetic condition. We know overwhelmingly the message families get is ‘Don’t have this baby, it will ruin your life,’ and I don’t think people would look at Sarah Palin and see a ruined life.”
“Regardless of politics, I think it’s a good example.”