In a recent, now famous editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, interim editor-in-chief Rajendra Kale called abortion of female babies “discrimination against women in its most extreme form.” He called for the withholding of information regarding the sex of any unborn baby until 30 weeks gestation in order to stop the female feticide that he reports to be occurring mainly in certain ethnic groups.
While abortion advocates are in an uproar over a woman’s right to choose to abort a female baby because she wants a boy instead, others are calling for the education of these ethnic groups against sexist rationale. But what if this debate was instead about the unborn child with cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome?
I believe most of us would agree that sex selective abortions are an act of discrimination. And I believe most of us would agree that this discrimination must end. But if the same ultrasound technology which revels the sex of a baby also revels the existence of a disability and that baby is then aborted because of that disability, is that not discrimination against the disabled at its worst? Why isn’t society standing up for these babies? Why aren’t doctors fighting to stop this practice of eugenics? Why is discrimination against females viewed as abhorrent, while discrimination against the disabled is considered justifiable and compassionate?
For those with disabilities, and for myself and other parents of a child with a condition able to be diagnosed prenatally, the idea of disability selective abortions is just as disconcerting as that of sex selective abortions. Prenatal testing exists in order to detect fetal abnormalities. In fact, new technologies that allow for easier, earlier testing of Down syndrome have been boasted as the way to eliminate the condition. But the only way to eliminate Down syndrome is through abortion.
Doctors advise expectant parents of a child facing a diagnosis that it is more compassionate to abort the child than allow her to live. Many people agree that aborting a disabled baby is the right thing to do so that the child won’t have to grow up suffering in any way. In fact, some parents have brought a wrongful birth lawsuit against their doctor when the doctor failed to diagnosis a disability in their unborn child. But is it really about compassion or is it about convenience? Can we really decide for someone else whether or not her life is worth living? And are these parents being educated about their child’s condition like Canadian parents should be educated about the joys of raising a daughter instead of a son?
The fact is that aborting a baby based on a disability is the same as aborting a child based on sex or race. It’s discrimination and it sends the message that people with disabilities are less than human and don’t deserve a chance at life. Unfortunately, doctors can’t withhold information regarding a prenatal diagnosis without the risk of being sued. So until society is educated on the realities of living with a disability, this discrimination will continue.
Unless people come forward for disabled children like Kale did for female babies, a prenatal diagnosis won’t be used to inform and educate parents, but instead will continue to be the reason many unborn children never see the light of day.