Note: According to my research, “Down syndrome” is preferable to “Down’s Syndrome”. Also, all credit goes to my friend and her friend who is my new friend who came up with the Ylvis/Dawkins joke yesterday.
There has been a lot of conversation around a certain prominent atheist announcing, in a poor and nuance-lacking imitation of Peter Singer, that he believes it immoral to not abort a fetus with Down Syndrome. Although many of the non- and anti-religious types who differed with him on the matter are pro-choice, we took issue with the notion that not aborting was somehow morally inferior to aborting.
Dawkins responded in his usual fashion by claiming it was the fault of the medium rather than his message, yet somehow, also as per usual, making the situation worse by adding in more words. It is eugenics no matter how much he denies it, and why deny it when he’s already come out in favor of eugenics, anyway? Eugenic practices hardly have to be associated with Hitler to be considered bad when it was we Americans who inspired the Nazis to use societal notions of inferiority and superiority to coerce people into reproducing or not reproducing.
What would a “What the Dawks Say?” incident be without a little splash damage?
Some of those defending the choice to not terminate pregnancy where the fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome engaged in the promotion of a stereotype. More specifically, I saw a lot of people gush on and on about how cheerful, loving, happy, friendly, and caring people with Down syndrome are as an argument for their right to exist. While well-meant, I’m sure, the argument is more than a little disturbing.
Take the case of a young man with mosaic Down syndrome. Mosaic Down syndrome often means a later-in-childhood diagnosis and, sometimes, the possibility of “passing” as someone without the condition. His mother, capitalizing on the possibility, raised him with the illusion that he had just as much in the way of potential as his peers. He hit certain developmental walls, more and more over time, which frustrated him; his frustration led him to lash out against those around him. Around the time he graduated high school, it became abundantly clear to him that he would not be able to do many of the adult things those his age were starting to do. As he made his way into his twenties, he grew more unhappy. Today, whether it’s during or outside of one of his many depressive episodes, he is hostile and sometimes downright cruel towards people, especially those who care for and about him.
Does he have any less of a right to exist as those with Down syndrome who fit into the rosy stereotype? I’d say not, even though I can say with some authority that it is hardly easy to manage a filial relationship with someone like that. We don’t predicate those without disabilities’ right to exist on their cheerful demeanor or the ease with which we deal with them. It is, frankly, terrifyingly ableist to do so with those with disabilities.
“Positive” stereotypes are anything but. Those who more or less fit into them are pigeonholed, those who fit some but not all of the characteristics are identity-policed, and those who don’t fit them at all are thrown under the bus. Avoiding such splash damage is as simple as remembering that people with disabilities should not have to achieve heights of perceived “goodness” in order to be allowed to exist, heights that would never be asked of those without disabilities.
What it comes down to is reproductive rights. Pregnant people should have the right to choose whether or not to terminate their pregnancy for any reason at all, period. It would certainly be nice if they could make that choice without people who cannot get pregnant engaging in “thought experiments” about it on Twitter, but alas.