Fetal testing, eugenics and L’Arche
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced Jan. 2 that all pregnant women should be offered testing for certain genetic and fetal abnormalities–a statement that reminded me of a memorable Commonweal piece about “grassroots eugenics” back in 2004 (you must be registered to read).
ACOG’s recent statement said that fetal “screening” is now less invasive and makes procedures less risky for fetuses. ACOG urges doctors to make tests available to any woman who asks for them.
While ACOG does not use the word “abortion” or even mention pregnancy termination in its statement, abortion always lurks around the edges of such issues. And, as the Commonweal article pointed out a couple of years ago, most couples seem to use fetal tests to determine whether they want to “keep” a baby that will turn out to have a disability.
There is a flip side to this coin, of course. Fetal testing COULD give couples time to accept and prepare for a special needs child. It could plug them into support groups and agencies that would help them understand what caring for a disabled child will involve. It would give them lead time to discuss the situation with family and friends who are likely to help them care for the child. When I had amniocentesis 12 years ago, the facilitator at the testing clinic DID suggest all these things.
One of the couples in our group asked, “So, do most people decide to keep their babies?”
“No, most terminate,” the facilitator told us.
It’s easy to cluck smugly at our sinful culture that extols physical perfection and trivializes human life, true as that might be, and to talk about sin. But to what extent do our churches at the local level put their money where their mouths are? When abortion is decried from the pulpit, is there an offer to help couples with disabled children woven into that homily? Not in my experience.
But if God wants these people to be born, there is clearly something we are to learn from them. Allowing them to be born is only the first step. Learning from them is the next.
So here’s my plug for L’Arche, a group that upholds the dignity and value of mentally and physically disabled people. If there isn’t a group in your state, you can learn a lot about how to support families caring for a disabled loved one. They are people worth knowing.