Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Flipside of the Autism Breakthrough

Perhaps I am the only one, but I greeted the recent breakthrough in autism research with more than just a little trepidation. My concern, located in the bottom paragraphs after the turn, relates directly to the following snip:
Every week parents of autistic children ask Wendy Roberts, a developmental pediatrician and co-director of the autism research unit at Sick Kids, whether there are prenatal tests to screen for autism. “At this point, we say that we can’t.” The study won’t have any immediate impact on clinical practice, said Roberts, a co-author of the study. It will take time to design a prenatal test for autism, precisely because there are so many genes involved.

Now, you ask, of what possible value could a prenatal test for autism be? To treat it in the womb with some kind of as yet undiscovered gene therapy? Not likely. No, the purpose of prenatal testing for autism would be exactly the same as the reasons behind prenatal testing for cystic fibrosis and Downs Syndrome – to allow the parents to abort the baby and save themselves from a lifetime of having to care for a special needs child. That this so-called "breakthrough" will lead to a cure for autism is probably true enough – but only if you think you ought to cure a disease by killing everyone who has it.

I recall my wife being told to go for an
amniocentesis during her pregnancy and upon being told why (her age and the risk of birth defects) we asked what good the information would do – and were told it would allow us to terminate the pregnancy. We looked our doctor right in the eye and told her that we weren’t terminating anything, and where she could stick her needle. You should have seen the look, as if to say "What do you mean you wouldn’t abort a Downs Syndrome child?" All through the pregnancy we constantly had to explain to various medical professionals that the reason the amnio test wasn’t in our file was because we refused to allow one to be done.

Our child, thankfully, is fine. I say thankfully, not because we would not have loved a disabled child, but because we wanted a healthy, happy baby just like every other parent. And what of those parents of autistic children? Would they turn back the clock if they could and abort their child? Their answers are, emphatically, "No."

So, yes, all hail the god of science, but pardon me for not jumping on the eugenics bandwagon to Hell. Call me a simple minded Catholic, but that’s how I feel.

Cure autism? Good. Aborting autistic children? Bad.

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