ANOTHER VIEW: A duty to choose unselfishly

Claire Rayner
Monday 26 June 1995 23:02
Comments

Dominic Lawson has reacted powerfully to the disappointment of the birth of a daughter with Down's syndrome. He has published his determination to give her unconditional love and support, his joy in her existence and his anger at those who imply it would have been better if his wife "had had the test" that would have diagnosed the condition long before the child was a sentient foetus (his own term) and then aborted.

As a long-time supporter of the Down's Syndrome Association dedicated to caring for families affected by Down's, I applaud his first two sentiments. His is a positive attitude which will ensure that his daughter gets the best possible care and life opportunities.

However, I cannot applaud Mr Lawson's castigation of those doctors and midwives who suggest to newly pregnant women that they have tests to identify abnormalities, then encourage and support them while they have abortions, if they so choose, if the tests are positive. Mr Lawson and his wife had every right to refuse that choice, and it is one I would defend vehemently - even though the Lawsons, of course, will not be paying the full price of their choice.

The hard facts are that it is costly in terms of human effort, compassion, energy, and finite resources such as money, to care for individuals with handicaps (and to hell with political correctness; there is more to these dilemmas than mere "learning difficulties").

Other children of the families pay the price of less attention and support for themselves and later responsibility for their siblings when their parents are no longer able to care for the weaker child themselves - and we all share that burden. All over the UK, there are people with various handicaps struggling to cope with state-supported institutional life after living with devoted parents until those parents were too old to cope or were dead. People who are not yet parents should ask themselves if they have the right to inflict such burdens on others, however willing they are themselves to take their share of the burden in the beginning. The right to choose implies the duty to choose as unselfishly as possible, surely?

Yes, of course there is the possibility that Mr Lawson's baby daughter will be one of the fortunate ones who is only mildly affected by her chromosomal abnormalities. She may be able to live a comparatively normal life, but there are many who are profoundly damaged, and it is surely perfectly moral to wish to avoid the misery of such people and the misery of their families, if it can be done.

This is not to say that those who are glad there are tests and abortions available are searching for "perfect children". We are not. We know there is no such thing. But we do seek to prevent pain where we can. I fear that in attacking testing, Mr Lawson is trying to assuage his own pain by ignoring that of others.

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