At last a good news story that has the potential to bring the endlessly warring hard Left and the hard Right together. Iceland has virtually eliminated Down Syndrome through its program of foetal screening and abortion.
In one fell swoop the eugenics program that once guaranteed the rise of the glorious Ubermenchen of the hard Right has dovetailed perfectly with the obsessive death industry aka “rights industry” of the hard Left.
I can almost see them standing singing and swaying in unison “We are the world, we are the perfectly selected children!”
All this, of course is on the back of a CBS report that details what it calls “the virtual elimination of Down Syndrome in Iceland.”
You can read and watch the report here.
Note the headline:
“Wow!”, I thought when I first read that headline. What a marvel! What a wonder! What scientific advancement has Iceland discovered to reduce the incidence of Down Syndrome in its population? Why haven’t we been told earlier? We can actually live in a society without Down Syndrome! If only Iceland were not so cold, we could all emigrate.
It’s only when you read and watch further that you realise it is not Down Syndrome that is disappearing, merely those unborn children who are proven by screening to either have Down Syndrome or be at risk of it. The headline is a bit clickbaity, and to be fair to CBS, the report is more even handed that I first feared.
But the headline is a subtle, but critical difference in language isn’t it?
And what about the caption beneat the photo? Just how did seven year old Agusta in the picture above slip through this particular net?
“On average Iceland has two people with Down Syndrome born each year.”
Note the use of the word “people” to describe someone such as Agusta. Somewhere along the line she became a “person” with Down Syndrome. According to the rather warped logic of our culture of death, while Agusta’s status changed to “person” somewhere during her gestation, her condition remained stubbornly the same.
Note what Iceland’s leading geneticist says:
Kari Stefansson is the founder of deCODE Genetics, a company that has studied nearly the entire Icelandic population’s genomes. He has a unique perspective on the advancement of medical technology. “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society — that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”
For his part though, Stefansson has concerns about the dramatic drop in numbers:
“It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counselling. I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counselling is desirable. … You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”
Now readers of this blog may realise I rarely write about the vexed topic of abortion, because in line with Stefansson, some things seems so complicated.
Abortion is a sobering topic and an emotionally charged one. There are many women who have had abortions, many Christian women in our churches who have had abortions, and many undergo abortions for all sorts of reasons that I, as a man, feel unqualified to comment on.
Many women say that they feel backed into corners by shame or deep concern about the level of support they will receive. And a poor doctrine of sin and forgiveness by the church has not helped in this area at all. We’re happy to point out the problems, but find it a real challenge to offer hopeful solutions that will cost us personally.
Hence while I have a concern about “no-go areas” being placed around abortion clinics, I have an equal concern that hanging around outside the front either passively protesting or actively placarding is not all that productive or particularly helpful. Hence I am happy to call an uneasy truce between two sober-minded parties on this matter who realise this is no light matter.
But the Iceland experience, coupled with the initial impression of a slightly gleeful tone in the CBS report’s headline, surely gives rise to concern, does it not? I do feel qualified to comment on the type of society we wish to become, especially when the way we use language is distorted in the process. The present day cultural battle ground is the battle over language and meaning, that much is clear.
The elimination of something is completely different to the elimination of someone in order for that something to itself be eliminated. That’s the language gymnastics of all totalitarianism, whether Left or Right. What kind of society do we want to live in? You might not get the choice!
What about Agusta’s mother, Ingadottir, whose foetal screening offered a slim chance of Downs, so slim she went with the odds and “lost”? Well she is now an activist for the rights of people with Downs Syndrome. She says:
“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream. Isn’t that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”
I like her idealist hope, but with two births per year I would say that particular horse has already bolted for her. Icelandic society has made up its mind on what kind of society it wants to live in.
Ingadottir can already see the future and it doesn’t look all that rosy for the likes of Agusta. The sheer lack of people like her will tell Agusta everything she needs to know about how welcome she is in her society. No amount of glossy campaigns will convince her otherwise.
That giant of theological observation and bon mots, Stanley Haerwas, observes that in a century’s time Christian communities will likely be known as the only group in the culture that does not kill its young or its old. He’s wrong, but only because he’s out by several decades at least.
In coming years the sick, the halt, the lame and the blind will no longer considered to be the truly oppressed; no longer considered to be those in primary need of protection by mediating institutions or the state. They will be cannon fodder for the type of society the rest of us wish to live in.
Right now the loudest voice in the rights movement, and its getting louder by the year, shouts for sexual rights and self-autonomous wish-fulfilment. If you’re the head of a giant corporation gouging taxes and using slave labour or dodgy employment agreements in overseas countries you can always salve your conscience, and those of your shareholders, by signing up to the sexual rights movement. Diversity? Done! Human right? Sorting it out by November!
Sometime in about sixty or so years Agusta, all things considered, will die, unless of course an enthusiastic euthanasiast get to her first. Sixty is the average life expectancy for someone with Down Syndrome. Lets’s hope she dies before her parents and siblings do, otherwise she will probably die lonely and unwanted in an Ikea-bedecked aged-cared facility with Bjork albums on high rotation.
I suspect the kind of society “we” want to live in has already been decided in Iceland and, just as it has in so many other curious social areas, the post-Christian Nordic and Scandinavian countries are setting the pace for the rest of the West.
They’re leading the way about what kind of society we wish to live in. It’s just that the consequences of what that society looks like haven’t caught up with us yet. But when they do chances are we will wake up in a society as clear, bright and cold as the moon on a cloudless Icelandic night.