Rick Santorum and prenatal screening

For those that missed the controversy, towards the end of February Rick Santorum (current candidate for the Republican presidential leadership bid) argued that,  ” a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.” His argument was roughly as follows: since prenatal screening leads to an increase in abortions, and since abortion is morally reprehensible, the morality of prenatal screening should also be considered. He was also, however, making the point that prenatal screening leads to a new form of eugenics — one that targets a fetus which exhibits abnormalities and deformities which are deemed undesirable. These arguments set off a firestorm of controversy.

Emily Rapp wrote a reply, “Rick Santorum, Meet my Son”, in which she claims that if she had determined that her son would have been born with Tay-Sachs (as he was), that she would have chose to abort her fetus.

 If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision.

But it seems like both sides are talking passed each-other a bit here. It seems necessary to recognize the potential dangers for a form of newgenics — something that can be informed by our understanding of the history of eugenics, and the ways in which new technologies can reassert these tendencies. But it also seems necessary to recognize the potential value of pre-natal screening technologies, and to recognize the very real pain that diseases like Tay-Sachs impart on the child.

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