And Another Thing…

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In Which Objectivists Descend Into Self-Parody

Like a lot of folks I had a brief interest in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism when I was younger. And like a lot of folks, I recognized it as completely bankrupt when I left adolescence. It should come as no surprise that teenagers are fond of Objectivism. It is a philosophy that encourages adherents to act as though they are the center of the universe, a behavior which most (not all, but most) teenagers have already mastered. However, spend any time in the blogosphere and you are likely to encounter adults who haven’t quite put away this particular childish thing yet. Their commitment to it is absolute, regardless of its precarious balance at the top of a very slippery slope.

I recently wrote a couple of posts describing my concerns about how Sarah Palin’s youngest son, who has Down Syndrome (DS), was becoming a political issue; and how the responses of various groups of people to that issue revealed some disturbing attitudes in our society about persons with DS, mental retardation (MR), or any developmental disability.

However, few things are more disturbing than a couple of posts by a pair of (you guessed it) objectivists who are appalled, appalled I say, at the nerve of any mother who dares to not abort her defective spawn:

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Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)-a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

A parent has a moral obligation to provide for his or her children until these children are equipped to provide for themselves. Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child’s life upon others.

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You read him right – because a person with DS might be less productive than the rest of us, we should just go ahead and abort them.  Because a person’s worth is tied up solely in his/her productivity.

Disregarding the moral vapidity of such a notion, the author’s conclusion about the potential productivity of an individual with DS is completely, demonstrably false. But let’s take it down to a personal level: imagine people debating your right to exist; imagine people writing articles and blog posts about how your mother should have aborted you due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. What do you suppose it is like for someone with DS to hear or read these things?

The second article suggests that people who take issue with terminating DS babies are part of a cult that worships retardation. It’s fairly short so I have reposted it in its entirety below:

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I wish Sarah Palin’s youngest son Trig — afflicted with Down’s Syndrome — the best life possible to him. Yet based on my experience working with a man with Down’s Syndrome in a high school job at a movie theater, I regard his life as inherently tragic and likely quite miserable. I also wholeheartedly support the vast majority of women who choose to abort a Down’s Syndrome fetus rather than saddle themselves with a perpetually dependent child.

Most of all, however, I’m disgusted by the the worship of retardationexhibited by Christians in response to Trig’s rise to national prominence, as in this National Review article by Michael Franc:

“Children with special needs,” Gov. Sarah Palin said during her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, “inspire a special love.” As someone who grew up alongside a brother with Down Syndrome, I can attest to that observation.

But these special children, and the special adults they grow up to be, inspire something else of equal importance. When these little, unexpected ambassadors of God enter our lives, they offer us the opportunity to rise to that greatest of all challenges – to treat others as we would want to be treated. Their presence, in short, elevates all of us.

That’s a good expression of the mind-set of so many of today’s devout Christians. They are not content to limit reason to make room for faith. They go further: they laud retardation as a virtue. In the process, they must — and do — disparage normal human intelligence as a vice.

Such people are not motivated by a soft heart. If they were, they would adamantly defend abortion as a moral means of freeing parents from the prospect of endless sacrifice to a retarded child. They would regard abortion as a moral way to prevent the infliction of a miserable, degraded life on the person that will emerge from the womb. Instead, they want to create more mentally defective and perpetually dependent children by outlawing abortion.

The people who worship retardation reject human reason as a value. They’re as anti-man as the deep ecologists who regard mankind as a cancer on the earth.

Frankly, one wonders why such people don’t lobotomize themselves, if retardation is such a boon to their fellow man. 

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She wishes Trig well, but thinks he should have never been born. I couldn’t make this crap up.

Does placing value on a life constitute “worship” of that life? Furthermore, does she really think that only people of faith have a problem with aborting DS babies? One need not be religious to recognize that children are more than fashion accessories for their parents; nobody is entitled to a perfect little clone of himself/herself. It’s not as though people set out to create children with DS or MR; those who knowingly bring children with these conditions into the world are simply playing the hand that they were dealt. How can anyone fault them for that? It takes a yard of courage to do what they do.

The author of the above piece speaks from the weighty depths of her experience; having worked with one person who had Down Syndrome in high school she speculates that his life was “inherently tragic and likely quite miserable.” Perhaps she is right. But if his life was filled with tragedy and misery, it probably wasn’t because of his condition. Rather, it was because the world is too full of people like the author, who would judge his life to be of no value at all simply because he lost a roll of the genetic dice.

As I tried to say before-people with Down Syndrome and mental retardation are neither saint nor savage, angel nor monster, martyr nor victim. They are as varied and unpredictable as the rest of us. If you and I don’t want to be judged by our chromosomes, we need to extend that courtesy, that fundamental decency, to everyone else; including those who are just a little bit different.

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13 Responses

  1. Shayna Willis says:

    Thanks for these posts, Odgie! We have a team of students in our school who are disgnosed MR, all forms and levels. When I see them walking through the halls, they inspire me to be a better person. They happily perform the most menial of tasks and always have a smile and a hello for anyone that crosses their path.

  2. john dobbs says:

    Mike, Thanks for writing this … it demonstrates the decline of civilization in our country – should we choose to give in to those who are paving the way for moral reconstruction. Appreciate it brother!

  3. lesjr says:

    My question for these people: what would you have us do with kids born this way without our knowledge that they would be so?

  4. Kelly says:

    I’ll never understand people with that kind of mentality. It has nothing to do with religion, just basic human decency. I find it very difficult to not to wish some disability on these people, so they could see what a drag on society they would be, and see if their attitude remained that they should’ve been aborted. They seem to believe that only perfect humans should be allowed to live, can’t they see that as a society we’ll be judged not by how perfect we are collectively, but how we treat those that needed a little help. If there weren’t so many people like this, their argument would really be laughable. However, there seems to be so many “people” who have this attitude that it’s more frightening than funny. I put people in quotations because in my mind, feeling that way about other humans is less than human. I have another label for these “Objectivists,” but you wouldn’t let me post it Odgie! Again, a blivet seems the only reasonable answer…

  5. Favela says:

    Odgie, would you like to trade places with a Down syndrome person?

  6. Andy says:

    It seems like some people have become so obsessed with a certain “quality” of life that they are willing to disregard life itself as a blessing. To extend this logic, how about the many people I know who spend their lives in miserable offices, working long hours that pay well, but leave them and their families unhappy and disfuciotnal? Should they all be terminated?

  7. Milena says:

    Abortion issue aside, I think that many people without disabilities take pity on those who do and look down upon them. Not to get all psychological, but I do think that people project their own fears and insecurities onto persons with disabilities. The truth is that they feel their own lives would be “tragic and inherently miserable” if they had DS or (insert disability). Yet, you and I both know countless people with disabilities who happily go about their lives in spite of their disability. Success and happiness in life is measured in different ways for different people and while someone with DS may not measure up to your definition of success, doesn’t really make them any less successful than you.

  8. odgie says:

    Shayna & John – Thanks for the feedback.

    Lesjr – good question. Thanks for commenting.

    Kelly – I get the spirit of your terminology; well-said.

    Favela – Welcome and thanks for commenting. In response to your question: No, I am thankful I don’t have Down Syndrome. And I hope that someday genetics advance to the point that it can be treated in utero without killing the fetus. I don’t sit up at night praying that God will make more people with DS. Of course, I am also thankful that I don’t have alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Type I diabetes, or any other wide-range of conditions. That doesn’t mean I think that people who have such conditions would have been better off having never been born.

    Andy – Another good question. One can’t help but wonder how a convict looking at 30-40 years of life behind bars feels about his/her “quality of life”.

    Milena – Welcome and thanks for commenting. I think you are right that people are projecting their own fears onto folks with various disabilities. And more often than not, they don’t have any up-close and personal experience with such people.

  9. Rory says:

    “You read him right – because a person with DS might be less productive than the rest of us, we should just go ahead and get rid of ‘em. Because a person’s worth is tied up solely in his/her productivity.”

    You read him wrong, my friend. He did not say that a living human being with DS should be dispatched for not being productive (that is the sort of thing that happens in Collectivist societies, where productivity for the good of society is put above a man’s right to his own life). He was decrying the fact that many people see it as a moral virtue to give birth to a child, knowing it will have severe mental retardation.
    He was not saying such a person will necessarily have a terrible life, that once born they should be killed, or that they are some how ‘worth’ less than any other citizen or should be qualified as second class citizens. He was saying that, as a parent, you can be pretty sure your life will be a lot more difficult and your son will probably not have as good a life as one without mental retardation.
    Now, if you want to state his premise as false – that having Down’s Syndrome is significantly bad enough to warrant someone to abort their fetus, as opposed to say, just learning that their child might be born with a mole on their cheek – then go ahead, fine. But his point was, if DS is so bad, for the parent and the child, then it is NOT a moral virtue to bring to term such a child. It is in fact a horrible, morally abhorrent thing to do to sentence someone to such a life.

  10. odgie says:

    Rory – Welcome and thanks for commenting.
    I never took his article to mean that a born person with DS should be killed, nor did I mean to imply that he was saying such, and I will edit my statement accordingly. I do think that his premise–that choosing to bring a child into the world knowing that child has DS is inherently immoral–is false.

    I have seen a lot of adults with DS in action; holding down competitive jobs, engaging in social lives, and enjoying themselves. Was it easy for them or their families? Of course not; just as it is not easy for people born missing limbs or with a predisposition to mental illness. If these conditions become detectable in untero, are we going to be having this conversation about them as well?

    Furthermore, a lot of folks with DS can read. What are they to think when they read articles like these?

  11. Jerri Harrington says:

    Maybe there needs to be another type of MR…..moral retardation.
    And Jesus showed us that He has compassion even on people with that form of MR.

    Our society is breeding all kinds of morally retarded adults…because they can’t see beyond their own “quality of life”. Who would ever guess that handicapped people might actually enrich the lives of those who love them? Sadly, all of us, if we live to be old, will be faced with less than perfect bodies and maybe minds. All of us are going to depend then upon the compassion of others.

    I wonder who the people you quoted would want caring for them in their old age–someone who had the courage to give a less than perfect human being the chance to have a life–or someone who believes only the “perfect” have the right to survive? Where do we draw the line? Should we euphanize all of the elderly, cancer victims, and people with chronic illnesses? I am thankful to God that He didn’t look down at us and decide only those who could live His version of a productive life should survive. None of us would be able to pass that test. How dare anyone else put themselves in the role of the judge of who has the right to live or die. A day of judgement is coming….we won’t be running that show!

  12. Stacey says:

    From #9 “He was saying that, as a parent, you can be pretty sure your life will be a lot more difficult and your son will probably not have as good a life as one without mental retardation…But his point was, if DS is so bad, for the parent and the child, then it is NOT a moral virtue to bring to term such a child. It is in fact a horrible, morally abhorrent thing to do to sentence someone to such a life.”

    Since when is difficult equal to a bad thing? I have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. While there is a difference between the autism spectrum disorders and Down’s Syndrome, there are still many challenges, and some difficult things that we, as parents, have to deal with on a daily basis. However, the blessings far outweigh the difficulties. I have grown in so many ways as a person because of those difficult moments. So, to point blank say that having a child with Down Syndrome is bad simply because it is more difficult than it might otherwise be seems rather extreme and illogical.

    Second, I don’t understand how one person can judge whether or not someone’s life is good. Is the life of a person with mental retardation worse than a person of sound mind who is addicted to meth and who knows what other kind of drugs? Is the life of a person with Down’s Syndrome worse than that of a gang member who ends up going to jail for life at the age of 17? Is the life of a person with Down’s Syndrome worse than mine or yours? I would challenge that the answer to all could be no.

    I know that there is probably nothing I could ever say to convince the author or others who feel this way about children with Down’s Syndrome; however, I hope that one day when they are in a position of hoping that someone places value on their lives, they will finally understand that ALL life does have value and should be considered a blessing. When I was pregnant with my oldest son, they told us that he might have Down’s Syndrome. He was born without Down’s Syndrome, but what moral ramifications would there be for us if we would have chosen to abort him simply because of a possible defect in his chromosomes? A pretty big one I think.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Odgie!

  13. odgie says:

    Jerri – Thanks for commenting – your thoughtful comments mean a great deal.

    Stacey – Welcome and thanks for kicking in. I am delighted to have the perspective of someone with lived experience on this issue. During my first internship with the local chapter of the Arc, I had the opportunity to work with several clients with ASD and loved it. Their lives were challenging to be certain, but with reasonable supports they lived productive, satisfying lives. Don’t be a stranger.

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