Sunday, November 20, 2005

Abortion and the Slippery Slope

I differ with many of my fellow libertarians on several issues, most notably the origin of rights, abortion, same-sex marriage, and preemptive war. (Go here for my views on the origin of rights; go here and follow the links for my views on abortion and same-sex marriage; go here and follow the links for my views about war.) In spite of my unorthodox stance on those issues, my perspective is libertarian and I take my positions in the defense of liberty.

With that introduction, I quote from a comment I left recently at Catallarchy on the subject of "Abortion and Federalism":

On the pro-abortion side there are (mostly) big-government “liberals” and “centrists” who hypocritically think that in the case of abortion (as well as a few other matters of personal interest to them) government should keep its hands off something. They are joined by many if not most libertarians, whose support for abortion seems to hinge on the notion that (a) a fetus doesn’t become a person with rights until it reaches a certain stage of development (as if there were not continuous development from conception to birth) or (b) a fetus (until some arbitrary stage of development) is its mother’s property to do with as she pleases (which, by extension, would vindicate Andrea Yates, who simply chose to murder her five sons at an arbitrary post-natal stage of development).

What few libertarians (unlike conservatives) seem to give any thought to is the possibility that abortion is of a piece with selective breeding and involuntary euthanasia, wherein the state fosters eugenic practices that aren’t far removed from those of the Third Reich. And when those practices become the norm, what and who will be next? Libertarians, of all people, should be alert to such possibilities. Instead of reflexively embracing “choice” they should be asking whether “choice” will end with fetuses.

And that leads me to an article in The New York Times, "The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World" (free registration required). I quote:

Heralded in the Nov. 10 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the new prenatal test [for Down syndrome] provides earlier, more reliable results for all women than the current test, which is routinely offered to only older women who are at higher risk. But for people with Down syndrome and the cluster of other conditions subject to prenatal screening, the new test comes with a certain chill. . . .

"We're trying to make a place for ourselves in society at a time when science is trying to remove at least some of us," said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, who suffers from bipolar disorder. "For me, it's very scary." . . .

Lisa Hedley, whose 10-year-old daughter has dwarfism, said the condition is usually not detected prenatally. It is so rare that it has traditionally not been considered worth the expense of the genetic test. Soon, though, pregnant women may be offered a gene-chip technology that can perform hundreds of tests at once for a few hundred dollars. . . .

Supporters of abortion are especially wary of wading into a discussion over the ethics of prenatal testing, lest they be seen as playing into the opposing side in the fraught national debate over abortion rights. But advocates for people with disabilities are troubled by how much faster the science of prenatal testing is advancing than the public discussion of how it ought to be used.

If no child is ever born again with the fatal childhood disease Tay-Sachs, many might see that as a medical triumph. But what about other conditions, including deafness, which some do not consider to be a disability, and Huntington's Disease, an adult-onset neurological disorder?

Among the difficult choices facing prospective parents in coming years, genetics researchers say, will be the ability to predict the degree of severity in chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome, which can cause mild to moderate retardation.

"Where do you draw the line?" said Mark A. Rothstein, director of the Bioethics Institute at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "On the one hand we have to view this as a positive in terms of preventing disability and illness. But at what point are we engaging in eugenics and not accepting the normal diversity within a population?" . . .

Of course, as more conditions are diagnosed in utero, many parents may simply decline testing, or use the information to prepare themselves. But studies have shown that women are considerably more likely to terminate their pregnancies if they know of fetal anomalies.

The slippery slope of eugenics is here and we are sliding down it.