Who has the privilege of deciding what constitutes a “serious handicap”? Not disabled people, that’s for sure. It’s no wonder that our voices are excluded from the abortion debate when the right to define disability is accorded only to professionals and the people who have to ‘cope’ with us. In some quarters, the severity of a handicap is determined by the financial and emotional cost of the disabled person’s treatment and care…
Despite these efforts to cut disabled people off from the debate, it remains of direct personal relevance to each one of us. Roughly 90% of foetuses diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted. How does awareness of that statistic make adults with Down’s Syndrome feel? The message that is being sent to them is that their lives are deemed unworthy of living, that they are inferior beings. Furthermore, the unspoken assumption made by many is that this doesn’t matter, as people with Down’s must be incapable of experiencing complex emotions anyway. It is no use mumbling about ‘difficult personal decisions’ in circumstances like these. That is a travesty of an answer, because the real questions still remain: what is so bad about having Down’s Syndrome? And, more pertinently, what effect does the very existence of selective abortion have on the lives of those with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities?
I know that a prenatal test for one of my conditions is expected within the next 10 years. It is already within the development stage…I would like to believe that the test will be used in a positive way, perhaps allowing parents to read extensively about their future child’s condition before the birth, make the necessary adaptations to their home and organise the best educational provision that they can well in advance. Call me a cynic, but somehow I doubt that this is what the test is intended for. And that makes me wonder whether all this talk of equality actually has any meaning, or whether it is simply designed to make non-disabled people feel good about themselves. How can you tell me that you value my contribution in the workplace when you support legislation that is grounded in the idea that disabled people are incapable of contributing anything? How can you laugh and joke around with me over lunch when you support a measure that is designed to protect disabled people from the vale of tears that we are supposedly doomed to inhabit?
Here in America we’ve made great strides in helping people with disabilities to become more active and involved in our communities and work-forces, but it seems we have not yet relieved the general assumption that life with a disability or a sick loved one is unbearable or less fulfilling. We not only accept the murder of unborn children diagnosed with fetal abnormalities, but we advocate for sick and disabled people to have access to assisted suicide services and allow, even encourage, family members to starve their severely handicapped loved ones. But what do you expect when 52% of the people in our country admit that that they would rather be dead than disabled?
Better off Dead?