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Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 2003 /16 Mar-Cheshvan 5764

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

Dr. Snuff, I Presume? CNN's brave new world -- When Fox News proclaims itself fair and balanced, many eyes roll, including my perfectly matched set. Fox's definite right-wing slant explains its growing popularity; it's why cranks like me tune in, at least from time to time. The blonde news babes don't hurt either. Many of us would rather learn of the latest catastrophe from a fox than a broken-down hound like Dan or Peter.

But Fox's quest to take over the world gains its greatest strength from its competition, which sometimes manages to outrage even some of the liberal faithful. I offer as evidence a recent story on CNN concerning a new prenatal test that can detect the presence of Down Syndrome. CNN's website reported the primary benefit of this test is that it gives "mothers-to-be more peace of mind and more time to end a pregnancy," a position shared by on-air medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta (a.k.a. Dr. Snuff). This emphasis on the extermination option outraged many Down parents, including my friend and associate, Ian Danielsen.

Ian, it should be understood, is a yellow-dawg lib, and also the singer in a band in which I play. He attempts to goad me into political debate on a regular basis (as do the other band members), though without success. It is reasonably said that his political condition is dire. Just the other day I heard talk about attending a "separation of church and state" rally. What a glorious way to spend one's afternoon! In addition, his dad's a Democratic-party stalwart appointed to run Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control monopoly — a crucial position in our boozy commonwealth.

Despite these shortcomings, Ian immediately grasped CNN's dark message. It was all about eliminating those who would, were they given the chance, probably turn out like Ian's lovely Rachel. And so, like many good stamp-licking liberals, Ian took pen to paper and fired off a letter — in this case to Dr. Gupta and allied henchpersons. Let us quote liberally, illuminating where warranted: "This presumption that early detection of a disability would naturally lead a mother to terminate her pregnancy smacks of a ‘modest proposal' mentality," the letter noted. "Heretofore, I was not aware that CNN was in the business of editorializing on such grave social policy implications."

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Such is the sound of scales falling from eyes. The fact of course is that CNN editorializes throughout the day and night, as do its competitors. Otherwise, viewers are in danger of drawing improper conclusions.

The letter continued: "In fact, many parents decline prenatal testing due to the risk of spontaneous miscarriage and their willingness to accept their future child, even if he/she has a birth defect or medical condition…many expectant mothers would benefit from early detection of Down Syndrome to begin to assess the fetus's heart, so that if there is an issue there, assessment and care can begin prenatally. Were notions such as these seen as too preposterous to be included along with the abortion angle?"

The sad answer is yes. Abortion is not only widely deployed against children with Down Syndrome. It is expected, and praised. Jocelyn Elders, just prior to being named Bill Clinton's surgeon general, famously proclaimed that abortion "has had an important and positive public-health effect" because it reduced "the number of children afflicted with severe defects." She pointed out that "the number of Down Syndrome infants in Washington state in 1976 was 64 percent lower than it would have been without legal abortion." Elders, known by some as a leading pom-pom girl for the Culture of Death, was simply stating a commonplace perspective.

Ian assured Dr. Snuff that he's philosophically pro-choice, especially when the mother's and fetus's lives are threatened. But that "is not generally the case with Down Syndrome, as people with this condition are actually more normal than not; and as their average life expectancy is on a sharpening curve of improvement as a result of early detection, early intervention and improved nutritional and medical practices….Please ask yourselves, from a standpoint of reporting the modern context of family medicine, are you perhaps still in the first half of the previous century?" (All emphasis in original.)

Yet Dr. Gupta is clearly very much up to date. Weeding out the "unfit" and otherwise inconvenient — a practice once known as eugenics — is standard operating procedure, and one with adherents on the left and right. Those not up to snuff stand a good chance of being snuffed, and those with conditions such as Down Syndrome are easy targets. Ian himself made the point quite well:

It is a sad truth in American culture that people with conditions affecting the mind and brain are unduly labeled as being their condition as opposed to having it. For example, people with schizophrenia are called "schizophrenics." Similarly, people with mental retardation are retarded, even if the reason for their lower intellect is a result of something that happened to them, such as asphyxia or a head injury. This problem of over identification with a diagnosis does not tend to be applied to people with other physical conditions or disabilities. For instance, we don't call people who have cancer "cancerics;" we don't call people with multiple sclerosis "sclerotics." But somehow in the case of Down Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that affects many areas of physical functioning, including intellect, it is still often said that people who have the condition are Down Syndrome. I even heard a young girl referred to as "a Down."
In closing, Ian asked Dr. Snuff and like-minded colleagues to "refresh on their Hippocratic Oath and then state on what basis they rate non-life-threatening conditions as severe enough or not severe enough to reasonably warrant the option of abortion. What other medical conditions are ‘termination friendly' in their value systems?"

These days, of course, a medical condition is hardly required to inspire the termination option. Simple inconvenience will do the trick, and a condition such as Downs is often an absolute death sentence. Many people continue to believe that's more than a bit barbaric — though that belief is much more likely to be encountered on Bill O'Reilly's network than Sanjay Gupta's. That's not spin. That's another unpleasant fact of modern life.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Dave Shiflett