Monday, March 13, 2006

Wrongful life?

Yesterday's NYT Magazine included this story about "wrongful life. " The article talks about cases in which parents who give birth to severly disabled children were not informed of the fetus' status in time to procure an abortion--and they sue the treating physician.

The story quotes Adrienne Asch, who notes (here and in a number of thought-provoking journal articles) that there is a moral difference between abortion for general reasons that apply to the pregnant woman (her life plans, her health, etc.) and reasons specific to that particular fetus. On her view, women have the right to choose whether and when to give birth--but they ought not have the right to choose to abort on the basis of fetal characteristics. One argument against prenatal testing is that it's the beginning of a slippery slope--today it's Down syndrome, in some places it's (already) sex, tomorrow it might be intelligence or height or some other characteristic. Basing abortion decisions on a single characteristic is, Asch and her coauthors claim, confusing the part with the whole--seeing only that characteristic and nothing else. They also note that, in many cases, parents may be basing their decisions on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of what it's really like to raise a disabled child. Moreover, they say, entering parenthood isn't like (and shouldn't be like) shopping: we should take what we get.

Another question worth considering, mentioned only briefly in this article, is whether there already exists a pro-abortion bias in the medical community in cases where genetic abnormalities are identified through prenatal tests. If this bias does exist--and my sense is that it does, at least in the minds of some physicians--are women really free to choose?

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