Monday, March 31, 2008

Amy Julia Becker and Downs Syndrome of FT On The Square

A major annoyance of mine as a Catholic science teacher is when objections to certain kinds of research or medical procedures are brushed off as unscientific. The discipline of science has no internal means to judge the morality of any given experiment or treatment. Society can and certainly should limit unethical research. Indeed we do, which is why human trials are so difficult to conduct. There are lots of hoops to jump through to make sure it's relatively safe for the subjects involved. Amy Julia Becker shares a personal example at FIRST THINGS - On the Square:

I remember how I felt two hours after my daughter Penny was born, when I first found out that she had Down syndrome. I sifted through my brain for some scrap of information about this “thing” that had just happened to our family. All I could come up with was early death and mental retardation. The doctors didn’t help much. In the hospital, we received a list of all the things that might go wrong with our baby–heart defects, leukemia, Celiac disease, developmental delays. Despite the hundreds of thousands of people with Down syndrome in America, even the medical professionals didn’t seem to know much about it.


I heard a report on NPR about a new ethics recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG has stated that doctors unwilling to provide abortions have an obligation to refer their patients to another physician who will provide the procedure. In the words of the spokesperson on NPR, “if a physician has a personal belief that deviates from evidence-based standards of care . . . they have a duty to refer patients in a timely fashion if they do not feel comfortable providing a given service.” Studies show that women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 (the technical term for Down syndrome) terminate the pregnancy 85 percent of the time. Since new medical guidelines–“evidence-based standards of care”–suggest that all women, regardless of age, be screened for Trisomy 21, it is most likely that the number of prenatal diagnoses, and the number of terminated pregnancies, will increase. In other words, evidence-based standards of care result, more often than not, in the elimination of people like my daughter from our society.

As a result, I am somewhat skeptical about the standard of care offered to these mothers. I’m also skeptical when “personal beliefs” are pitted against evidence, therefore implying that a physician who is unwilling to perform an abortion has defied (“deviated” from) the evidence. I understand that many women face unbearably difficult choices in regards to the health of their babies. Some choose to terminate pregnancies because they have been given information about the near certainty of physical abnormalities leading to their child’s early death. And yet many women choose to terminate a pregnancy based upon probabilities, fear, and misinformation.

No comments: