Editorial: Our moral blind spot

At first glance, it reads like something to celebrate: “Few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.” But a closer read of the investigative report released in mid-August by CBS News reveals not a positive story of success, but a dark and disturbing practice. As actress Patricia Heaton pointed out on Twitter: “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”

Indeed, prenatal tests in Iceland have become so proficient at identifying near-certain cases of Down syndrome that almost 100 percent of parents in the country are choosing to abort children believed to have the disorder rather than carry them to term. (In the United States, the “termination rate” for those believed to have Down syndrome is 67 percent — a no less horrifying number.)

The numbers, though shocking, aren’t as troubling as the rationale itself. The most disturbing interview in the CBS report was with a hospital counselor, Helga Sol Olafsdottir, who tells women struggling with whether or not to abort their child with Down syndrome: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.”

She continues to the CBS interviewer: “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication ... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”

The message is loud and clear: A child with Down syndrome is somehow “less than” — and “less than” equals disposable. Parents, already scared and overwhelmed, are left feeling like ending the pregnancy is not just the best option, but the only option. 

Following this “throwaway culture” logic leads directly to our society’s colossal moral blind spot, one that hardly ends with abortion. One issue bleeds seamlessly into the next: the “mercy killing” of the elderly, the elimination of lives on death row, the manipulation of embryos for genetic research or procreation, and discrimination because of skin color, religion or racial background. This collective mindset that pits one human life against another is the definition of the culture of death, and it is terrifying.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the desire on the behalf of some to shut down the conversation entirely. In December of last year, the French government banned a two-and-half-minute video on Down syndrome called “Dear Future Mom” because it could, in the words of the government, “disturb the conscience of women who, in accordance with the law, have made personal life choices.” That is, it could upset those who have chosen to abort their children because they had Down syndrome.

Rather than affirm that decision, the video portrays children with Down syndrome as happy, with a full life in front of them. “Your child can be happy, just like I am,” say the children in the video. “And you’ll be happy, too.” It’s profoundly effective and therefore highly uncomfortable for the many who believe that human beings, not God, should be the arbiters of which lives have value and which don’t.

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The good news for us, though, is that we know truth: that every life matters, whether unborn or born, black or white, young or old, at liberty or on death row. And we know that those lives thought to be a burden really are a joy. Happily, this is the message we have the privilege and the responsibility of proclaiming to the world.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor