The Treatment of Handicapped Infants
A DECADE OF DETERIORATION
During the past few years an intense debate has been raging among professionals as to what the most appropriate responses should be in terms of treatment, care, and life support for the handicapped infant. While the controversy is currently being waged, however, actual responses have not remained stationary. Unfortunately, the steps taken to date are not only dismal for the defective infant, but reflect a fundamental shift in the ethical posture of society. There has been a systematic erosion of the traditional belief in the sanctity of each human life, and a gradual transformation to another, relativistic standard. Today, the overriding factor is not the inherent sanctity of a human being, but rather his potential “quality,” his usefulness, and general overall “value” to society.
Beginning with the development and refinement of amniocentesis as a prenatal screening technique, the value and sanctity of life of the handicapped newborn has deteriorated to a point where society has openly begun to practice involuntary euthanasia. As a medical technique, amniocentesis is capable of detecting all chromosomal disorders as well as 60 inborn errors of metabolism. However, the real impact of amniocentesis did not surface until the abortion laws were legalized.
The Roe v. Wade decision was a catalyst for a tremendous surge in abortions in the United States. The initial ruling of the Supreme Court said essentially that prior to viability (i.e., the ability of the fetus to survive ex utero), an abortion could be procured practically on demand. The marriage of this event with amniocentesis helped to produce a fundamental shift in the mentality of society toward the defective infant. As E.F. Diamond states:
The recognition of chromosomal disorders during prenatal life has had the effect of the establishment of a “free-fire zone” during the late-middle and last trimester. Today, there are no restrictions on aborting mongoloid children even after viability.
This dramatic shift has led some to express a fear that the next logical step in response to the handicapped newborn child would be a program of selective infanticide.
However, S. Bok challenged that hypothesis and concluded that it was essentially unfounded. In light of recent events, however, it seems Bok’s 1974 comment that “the fear of slipping from abortion to infanticide does not seem to be grounded in fact” must be seriously reconsidered.
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