Tuesday, June 06, 2006

today : cosmetic eugenics?

Before I start, let me make two things clear. I am writing from England, where the topic of abortion isn't such a hot one. Like lots of things, it's legal and most people agree that it's better to have choice than not. Every so often someone tried to launch a political/moral polarisation like the one that seems to obssss the United States, but it never really works. I don't know anyone who likes abortion, but most people accept it as a right. Secondly, I am male, and though that means I can have opinions on abortion (I am pro-choice which outweighs my personal kind of agnostic discomfort about the act itself), I know that its pretty easy for me. I will never have to experience the direct effects of any decision. There are many others far more qualified than I to discuss it from a moral and legal standpoint.

But I was also born deformed. Recently, in England, statistics on abortion were published. In amongst the headline numbers compiled over the past few years was one statistic that stopped me in my tracks. Twenty children were aborted in Britain because they were going to be born with talipes. Club feet. When I was born four decades ago, having talipes was quite a major thing. I had complex operations as a baby and live with the scars. And the condition was never cured, just made better. I am pretty lucky in some ways that I could walk and basically act completely normally, although the condition has caught up with me recently to the point where it could be described as a disability. These days, thanks to the work of a pioneering doctor from Iowa called Ponsetti, the vast majority of talipes affected children, in both the U.S. and Europe, receive mostly non-surgical treatment in their early years and the problem is pretty much cured. Which leads me to wonder two things: why did twenty people feel that abortion was the solution to their child's problem and why did the medical professionals offer it as a solution?

I felt upset and pretty offended that someone would think that my condition was worthy of a termination. It posed a question that, I think, we all might find difficult to answer. If we support choice on principle, how far does our principle go? What if the choice we passionately defend means that people will make choices that we feel are abhorrent, stupid or misguided? Can I support a parent who is willing to abort a child at 24 weeks just because it will emerge imperfect? Looking like me?

As a talipes sufferer I have a higher risk of, myself, having talipes children. Twice, this subject has been brought up in relationships. You know, in the early stages when you feel out each others' opinions on marriage (Like, WAY in the future...) and kids (someday, if by chance...). Twice, I have had potential long-term partners express mild horror in the knowledge that their kids may be deformed. Perhaps they were just looking for an excuse to not marry me and have my kids. Who knows? Either way, both times, I found it pretty shocking.

Perfection and imprefection are a totally subjective things. It's a cliche that when we fall in love, for example, it is our lovers' imperfection that often endear us the most. Nature loves imperfection. Genetic corruption is the engine of evolution. Now I can't personally see how having one leg shorter than the other and painfully misaligned feet and ankles moves the human race forward any, but I guess the first giraffe didn't really consider the implications of having a longer than average neck. It was also probably teased at school.

I know little of the 20 cases reported. However, my underlying concern is that the only logic behind these decisions was one based in vanity. We are apparently entering a phase where 'designer babies' are a distinct option. It also seems that some people are so locked into the world presented to them by the TV, the perfect family, that they cannot handle it when they don't quite match this fantasy image. Today, it's deformed feet, tomorrow will it be nose size, baldness or hair colour? How do I feel about people practising cosmetic eugenics, when it already angers me that some people in the world have abortions due to gender,or sheer poverty?

No comments:

Post a Comment