Monday, October 10, 2011

Like angelic voices

The high school where this heartwarming story takes place is just up the road from us--in fact, it's in the same town as the Catholic church we attend:

Mariah Slick is the first Azle High School homecoming queen with Down syndrome.

The high school senior, according to KVUE, never expected that her classmates would crown her the queen of their homecoming.

She is known for her warm personality, but even her parents were surprised by the nomination. "I never dreamed she would be nominated homecoming queen, especially since she has special needs," her mother, Susan Slick, told CBS DFW.

The 18-year-old high school student is one of the school's biggest fans, and according to ABC, hardly misses a game. It seems everyone has something nice to say about her as well.

There is a video at the link, and also here.

Nearly 90% of babies diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome will be aborted here in America. Some people argue, unconscious of the eugenics aspects of their argument, that parents who find out that a child will have Down syndrome have a moral obligation to have their children executed before birth, to spare them "suffering."

The students at Azle High School would quite likely disagree, some of them strongly, with that kind of thinking. I'm so proud to live near these great kids, to know a couple of graduates from this school, and to see such a cloud of witnesses to the intrinsic value and dignity of every human life coming from them in a message that was so loud and clear it got picked up by the international media. Above all of the cacophony and clamor of our culture of death's propaganda, deeds like these lift like angelic voices proclaiming the truth that life is worth protecting and valuing in all human beings, from conception to natural death.


freddy said...

Oh, how beautiful!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

You might expect me to disagree with this perspective. Actually, I look at it from an oblique angle. My mother, a conservative pro-choice Republican, was telling me about a public forum where a man who had severe congenital disabilities spoke, and asked "So, should I have been aborted?"

I have a very simple answer: that is a moot question. You were not, and never can be aborted.

It is, I believe, a false arrangement of facts, to ask whether someone who is years past delivery, alive and thriving SHOULD HAVE BEEN aborted. I also don't think that has any bearing on the individual decision of a pregnant couple.

If I were married, and my wife were pregnant, and we had a diagnosis of Down's syndrome, I would definitely favor abortion. It would, ultimately, be her decision, and I would support her whatever she decided. But that is what I would advise.

The difference is, I would not see a child. I would see a partially formed mass of cells, and I would ask, do I want my child to have this genetic pattern inflicted upon it? The answer is no. I can still prevent that.

Nature often does exactly that. Some, although unfortunately not all, of the sperm that carry genetic abnormalities, are hampered in the race to be first to the ova, thank God. One cause of spontaneous abortion is precisely the body's rejection of severe genetic abnormality. I see nothing wrong with aiding this natural process.

To assert that "this unusual genetic pattern has a right to be born" strikes me as akin to Richard Dawkins's thesis, in The Selfish Gene, that the living organism is merely a carrier for the DNA, rather than the DNA a framework for the living organism.

If we could reach inside the zygote and correct an abberant gene, to spare the child the deficiency, nobody would be so heartless as to say "NO, the child MUST be born with these painful deficiencies."

I read once of a woman with a mild case of Down's syndrome whose mother had arranged a marriage with a young man who had the same condition. They hit it off well, but she asked her mother, if they had a baby, would it also have Down's syndrome. Her mother told her, honestly, it probably would. She cried a lot about that, and had her tubes tied. She knew, better than any advocate, what it was like to live with this condition, and she was not going to put her baby through it. She's made the best of the cards she was dealt, but she would not knowingly deal those cards to her child.

God bless Mariah Slick's class mates, but it would be a wonderful thing if no other baby were ever born with Down's Syndrome.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Erin, don't you think you should say something about WHY you deleted my response? If nothing else, it offers readers more detailed knowledge of your guidelines. I know that you passionately disagree, but that has never been sufficient basis for deletion before.

Red Cardigan said...

Um, Siarlys, I didn't delete your response. In fact, I remember seeing it yesterday, thinking I needed to respond to you in the comment box, and then getting too busy to do so. :)

Had I aborted your response, I'd be properly apologetic. Since it seems to be a blogging software miscarriage, though, I'll go look "behind the scenes" at Blogger to see if it's in the ether somewhere.

Blogger is weird--I had to delete somebody the other day who was trying to sell some sort of skin cream, but Blogger didn't appear to notice; and yet regular posters will sometimes have their posts vanish without warning.

Red Cardigan said...

Aha! Found it in the spam folder. Honestly, I have no idea why Blogger dumped it there.

Still, I suppose it was only a potential post until I restored it, so it's not like you'd have lost an actual bit of writing if it had been lost forever...

Tweaking, I know. :)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

OK, its Blogger. That is more consistent with both its character and yours. But, I had seen it posted, and then came back to see what everyone else was saying, and it was gone! That's beyond the usual circumstances of "Blogger ate my comment." (Do you suppose that works for homework in the digital age? This is one reason I do NOT store anything "in the cloud."

Geoff G. said...

"To assert that "this unusual genetic pattern has a right to be born" strikes me as akin to Richard Dawkins's thesis, in The Selfish Gene, that the living organism is merely a carrier for the DNA, rather than the DNA a framework for the living organism."

I'm not at all sure this is the way to look at that argument.

I'd rather point out that each viable set of cells is a unique being with the potential to become a person such as the world has never seen before or will ever see again.

In that spirit, I tend to view abortion as a shameful waste of a part, however, large or small, of humanity's richness. It is a squandering of humanity's most precious wealth. The whole point of the story of Mariah Slick is that, despite her condition, she has affected an unknowable number of people in ways both both subtle and gross and woven her way into the fabric of humanity in ways that enrich us all, even cynical old me sitting behind a computer hundreds of miles away.

How diminished would our lives have been had she never been born? Perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. But diminished they would have been. And I thank her parents for making the decision they did so many years ago and enriching my own life through that article.

Potential is, in many ways, all that we have. To cut someone's potential short because we cannot see how it could manifest sells humanity short.

Red Cardigan said...

Geoff, your comment is beautiful, and I really appreciate it. :)

beadgirl said...

As a mother of a child with D.S. (and, for the record, I found out before he was born) I was all set to write a long post about our screwed-up notions of suffering and value and quality of life. But Geoff, you rendered my post moot.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

"each viable set of cells is a unique being with the potential to become a person such as the world has never seen before or will ever see again."

Of course that is the point of departure between us. There are many unique genetic signatures, billions of which never have been, and may never be, expressed in the cells of a fully developed human being.

There is biology, and there is humanity. Both are relevant and real. Biology is indifferent to personality. Some eggs are fertilized, most are not. A few sperm fertilize an egg, millions do not. A zygote may, or may not, attach to the uterine lining. A partially developed blastocyst, embryo, fetus, may or may not spontaneously miscarry. The genetic pattern is a blueprint for what may be, not the essence of the human being. As a rough analogy, I would be rather dysfunctional without my bone structure, but my skeleton is not the essence of who and what I am.

What we agree on is that every human being who is born, whether born with a disability, or who suffers disability by accident later, is entitled to be treated with love and respect, and allowed or aided to reach their full potential. That potential may be limited.

As a paratransit driver, I became rather contemptuous of the way the gods of programming (aka social workers) dictated that a young lady with severe Down's syndrome, who really wanted nothing more that to sit in the corner in the sunlight and go to sleep, must be imperiously bundled onto a bus every morning to go to a day program where she promptly went back to sleep until bundled onto another bus to go back to a group home. This was obviously not treating her with respect, and it offended my libertarian sense that every individual is different, but it expressed the political platform that she was "just like all the rest of us" and should commute every week day, like the rest of us.

Down's syndrome is a dysfunction. We have poured considerable resources into eradicating polio, smallpox, ricketts... and we should be no less committed to eradicating Down's syndrome. We don't BLAME individuals who have polio (although we may quarantine them while infectious -- an issue which does not arise in the same manner with genetic illness). If we could come up with a sophisticated variation on the diaphragm, which could prevent Down's syndrome by filtering out any sperm that, in combination with the available egg, would fall prey to that misalignment of genes, I doubt that anyone could object. After all, that would be a choice among millions of sperm, most of whom are going to die, matched with an egg, which stands as much chance of being flushed out in the menstrual cycle as being fertilized.

I simply do not see why a similar concern should not be acted on early in the process of pregnancy. This has nothing whatsoever to do with how we treat individuals who do have illnesses, however they acquired them.

beadgirl said...

A lot of things are dysfunctions, such as being nearsighted, or fatally allergic to peanuts, or sterile. Some people go so far as to argue that being ugly or having dark skin is a dysfunction. And yet, with myriad dysfunctions in the world, serious and non-serious, people nonetheless are able to lead full, happy lives, even if it is not the way those of us without dysfunctions envision.

Your analogy to polio and other diseases is flawed because a) they are diseases, not dysfunctions, and b) we were able to eliminate them without destroying people. Immediately killing every human who caught small pox, before he or she could pass it on, would also have eliminated the disease eventually.

If, some day, scientists were to come up with a pill that somehow removed the extra chromosome from all cells early on, i doubt the Church would object. And, in fact, there are other "cures" in the works -- the NYT Magazine recently profiled a neuroscientist with a D.S. daughter who has been conducting tests on young adults with D.S., and finding that putting them on a particular medication used to treat alzheimer's vastly improved their cognition and memory (it's working so well that I really wish I could get Beadboy1 on it, while he is still in school).

The problem with your idea of a filter is that I really don't think such technology could ever actually exist in any meaningful way, without resorting to something like in vitro fertilization. The only way we now have of "filtering" D.S. out now is via abortion, in which case we are not just getting rid of the dysfunction but also the person.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I am nearsighted. The difference between being nearsighted and having dark skin is that I have an objective difficulty seeing. A person with dark skin mostly has to worry about how people will think about them, not an objective difficulty functioning. People with dark skin may have more difficulty accumulating Vitamin D in northern latitudes, which is more objective in nature, but that wasn't the motivation for, e.g., Jim Crow laws.

If I could abolish nearsightedness from the world, I certainly would do so. I have no sense that my dysfunction is something to treasure or propagate. I used the word dysfunction because people get into sterile debates when I call Down's syndrome a disease, but it is a disease. It is a genetic disease.

I agree that the diaphragm to "filter" Down's syndrome is probably impractical. It was a test of the argument that Down's Syndrome is worthy of being propagated as some valuable expression of variety in the human gene pool. It is not.

The fundamental line then remains: There is a period of 3-5 months when you call what is growing inside a woman a person, and I don't. I call it tissue with an extra chromosome, which a woman has every right to remove, on the ground that she doesn't want her children to have that extra chromosome. Apparently 90% of women who face this decision agree with me. Those who don't are free to have a baby with the extra chromosome, raise them, love them, and even expect the entire community to respect them. So be it.