In the tests conducted on the remains of over 30 people from the Poulnabrone burial site in the Burren in Clare, the earliest proven example of a skeleton of a person with Down Syndrome was discovered. It was an infant who died sometime around 5,500 years ago.
What is fascinating about the discoveries, and it is worth bearing in mind that we are referring to a relatively small number especially from thousands of years ago, is that it casts new light on how people with Downs were treated by the communities into which they were born.
The received wisdom is that “many” such infants were killed or abandoned. The evidence, albeit scarce, would not support such a supposition. Indeed, there is a large amount of evidence up until late pre modern times that while people with intellectual and physical differences were regarded as different, that was not accepted as a reason to kill them.
The Irish infant had been breast fed which indicates that the mother and larger community were not intending to kill him. The same applies to the medieval child who had a full Christian burial in exactly the same location and with the same burial ritual as others in the cemetery. The German woman lived into early adulthood.
Had she lived in Germany in the 1930s under the Nazis she would have been murdered. Indeed, she would have been considered by the early 20th century eugenics movement – a direct forerunner in America of Planned Parenthood – as someone who was to be forcibly sterilized and preferably die.
The Nazis of 1930s Germany and the overt racists of 1920s America have been replaced by sanctimonious doctors who think they are helping to improve the human species, or just morally indifferent ones who rate lifestyle issues higher than a human person.
The abortion rate for diagnosed Down Syndrome is 90% in Britain, a fact that was screamed down by the Yes side in our referendum on abortion. Iceland now has no babies being born with Down Syndrome because it kills them all before birth, an accomplishment that was described by liberals as Iceland having “cured” Down Syndrome.
Actress Patricia Heaton, who some of you will know as Frankie in The Middle, responded to a CBS report that Iceland had “eliminated” Down Syndrome by pointing out that what they actually meant was “They’re just killing everybody who has it.”
In the Netherlands they have moved beyond aborting people with Downs. When euthanasia was legalised in 2002 it was found that in total disregard for the alleged requirement of consent on the part of the person to be killed, that doctors and parents were killing infants who were incapable of giving consent.
That led to the issuing of the Groningen Protocol which did away with such petty details standing in the way of basically murdering another person. Now, a “defective” child can be killed with the consent of the parents on the basis of whatever Doctor thinks best, except for what’s best for the victim obviously.
As a critical academic review of the Dutch practice bluntly stated: “Killing babies is not within the scope of medical practise for pediatricians …. The taking of innocent life is never a moral act.”
Unless you happen to be Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, who openly advocates the killing of disabled infants after birth. Ironically he is one of the chief ideologists of animal liberation. Which is no reflection on your dog or cat.
The congenitally bitter Richard Dawkins claimed that knowingly giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome “might actually be immoral,” if the aim of human life is to “increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering.”
Buddhism, which along with Catholicism is the only major religion to unequivocally oppose abortion, ridicules the notion that the objective of human existence is to attain superficial “happiness” especially if at the expense of others, as was also stated by Kant.
There is resistance to the amorality of killing inconvenient persons whether before or after birth. In February, Heidi Crowther, who has Down Syndrome, began a court action in London to prevent the abortion of the “seriously handicapped” up until birth.
We can also look back into history and our own tradition for evidence that such amorality was not always unthinkingly accepted because it fits with some zeitgeist which wins by default because as eloquently shown in Jonathon Van Maren’s new book Patriots, a lot of people could not be bothered thinking about the implications of what they are being told to do by a deracinated elite.
Our pre-conquest Brehon laws enshrined the duty of the community to protect and care for those with intellectual disabilities who were described as “daoine le dia” – people with God.
The boy with Down Syndrome discovered at Poulnabrone lived his short life long before those laws were written down, but the same respect for life was present. We have gone backwards since then it seems.
He is currently working on a number of other books; His latest one is a novel entitled Houses of Pain. It is based on real events in the Dublin underworld. Houses of Pain is published by MTP and is currently available online as paperback and kindle while book shops remain closed.
It's a tough one. Emotionally we would never want to see harm to a baby as it's in our genes to protect the next generation, but by allowing the birth of offspring with genetic abnormalities you are placing an extra heavy burdon not only on the parents but the wider society.ReplyDelete
Not to mention the terrible quality of life for the individual if born. Ultimately the best we can do is allow the would be mother to decide and not judge those when they decide either way.Delete
In which society is abortion compulsory Matt? Where in the world is euthanasia demanded?ReplyDelete
As it stands, these remain matters of choice ... matters of choice, which like all choices, carry a burden. Choosing is the bedrock upon which all freedoms stand and all freedoms come with a price.
Yes, some people have not bothered fully thinking through what they advocate for!
Unless we know how the child referred to above died we can't really know how the children were cared for. Were they smothered rather than die natural deaths? Are there records?ReplyDelete
Infanticide in days past was a frequent enough thing. Steven Pinker in Better Angels Of Our Nature gives an insight into just how prevalent it was. As late as the 18th Century cops in England didn't even report the dead babies they found, so frequent was it that they treated it much as they did discovering a dead dog or cat.
In other climes anthropologists have discovered a range of different approaches to infanticide. Years ago I recall the case study showing that where children born with encephalopathy (I think) were placed in a makeshift raft and sent down the river: they were redefined as baby hippos in the culture that prevailed: the river was the natural habitat for hippos.
I can see why Dawkins thinks as he does on the grounds of it challenging the very humanitarian notion that there are strong reasons for maintaining that it is wrong to bring into this world a being that is going to be so limited in terms of what it can achieve and the suffering it is certain to endure. That said I think these decisions are best left to the parents rather than us moralising about it.
There are a number of criteria to be in place for the Groningen Protocol to be implemented: one is the presence of hopeless and unbearable suffering. Nor am I aware of it having been used in cases where Down Syndrome was the only health factor present.A humane society will grapple with the question of whether it is right to permit that type of suffering.
I believe Iceland is a success story. I don't believe it has cured the illness at all but has instead done much to prevent it emerging. I would have concerns about the issue of parental consent in the matter but in Iceland I understand that the parents have the choice whether to continue with the pregnancy or terminate. There was a row a few years back between the religious right in the US and the Icelandic media over this very question. The religious right in the US are so fundamentally dishonest, they didn’t do too well in the exchange.
As always, my view on these matters is practice your religion but on yourself, not on me. If you don't want the morning after pill, don't take it. Don't tell me I can't take it because of what you, not I, believe. As always, religion has a hard job pretending it is ethical.
I think the type of argument Matt makes here tends to get a wider hearing when it is not made by people opposed to abortion as the lines then become blurred. People start suspecting some sort of religiosity and after that it becomes all too easy to dismiss the argument as belonging to the crank category.
My own perspective is that all perspectives other than religious ones should be considered when discussing these topics including abortion. I am always open to the secularist argument against abortion. What I am not going to listen to ever is what somebody thinks the unicorn might think on the matter.
Although that is not germane to the wider point that Matt makes.
I happen to think that once we dig beneath the surface of this piece an entire new terrain, both factual and ethical opens up.
That the ascendents of groups like Planned Parenthood made eugenic arguents is no reason to tar modern pro-chloice or abotrtion rights advocates with the same brush.ReplyDelete
At the end of the day it is for parents of prenatal Downs Syndrome and other severely disabled children to make the decision to proceed or not with the pregnancy; the decision should not be made for them by the state or religious interests.
Barry - despite the very real difficulties presented, your suggestion seems the best way to go. While not everyone will agree it is the right one it seems the best by far.Delete
How would we go about getting the state to make the decision and then enforce it?
Would people be prohibited from travelling and forced to give birth? Sounds ridiculous.
People these days ask their doctor not their priest in order to get a better understanding of what is at stake.
No woman should be forced to have an abortion any more than a woman should be forced to give birth.
The rest of us do not have to like or approve the choices they make, merely allow them the right to make the choice. Often rights are things that are asserted against what we believe. But that is democracy.