Friday, January 26, 2007

Choosing Tomorrow

Yesterday's post featured several books by Nigel Cameron. Nigel is a committed evangelical Christian, but also a significant player in the fields of bioethics and emerging technologies.

Here's a brief bio . . .

Nigel Cameron is Director of the Center on Nanotechnology and Society at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. His chief interest lies in the implications of emerging technologies for policy and human values. He is a member of the United States National Commission for UNESCO, and of the advisory boards of the Converging Technologies Bar Association, the Nano Law and Business Journal, and 2020Health (UK). Cameron has been Scholar-in-Residence at UBS Wolfsberg, and given expert testimony to committees of the US Congress and the European Parliament. He has been a featured speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the World Healthcare Innovation and Technology Congress. His co-edited book, Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century, is in press with John Wiley, and he is currently working on his next book Choosing Tomorrow.
I just discovered that Cameron has started a blog called ChoosingTomorrow. It's obvious that Cameron is trying to create a platform for cultural engagement. His faith is not in the forefront of his blog, but rather informs completely how he sees the world. (I've added it to my blogroll on the right.)

As I referenced, I have heard Nigel speak about these areas on Mars Hill Audio Journal, of which he is a frequent guest. (You can hear him, too, by checking out some Mars Hill CDs from the church library!) The guy is always informative and challenging.

To give you a feel for Cameron's blog, here's a great sample post, entitled "The Death of Down's Syndrome (People)", which relates to much of what I said in last Sunday's message. This stuff is real and I'm not making it up . . .
A striking op-ed in the Washington Post offers a chilling comment on the eugenicism that continues to drive uses of pre-natal (and indeed pre-implantation) testing. Patricia Bauer's sad reflection on the new recommendation that every pregnant woman be "screened" for Down's is potent not least for its setting this discussion outside the parameters of the "pro-life v. pro-choice" context in which it is more typically found. I shall just let her speak for herself:

The ACOG news release notes that the recommendations are based on consistent scientific evidence and will allow obstetricians and gynecologists to best meet their patients' needs. Until now, women 35 or older were automatically offered genetic testing for Down syndrome; under the new guidelines, less invasive and earlier screening options will be extended much more broadly.

What's gone undiscussed in the news coverage of the guidelines seems to be a general assumption that reasonable people would want to screen for Down syndrome. And since nothing can be done to mitigate the effects of an extra 21st chromosome in utero, the further assumption is that people would be reasonable to terminate pregnancies that are so diagnosed.

Certainly, these recommendations will have the effect of accelerating a weeding out of fetuses with Down syndrome that is well underway. There's an estimated 85 to 90 percent termination rate among prenatally diagnosed cases of Down syndrome in this country. With universal screening, the number of terminations will rise. Early screening will allow people to terminate earlier in their pregnancies when it's safer and when their medical status may be unapparent to friends and colleagues.

I understand that some people very much want this, but I have to ask: Why? Among the reasons, I believe, is a fundamental societal misperception that the lives of people with intellectual disabilities have no value -- that less able somehow equates to less worthy. Like the woman in the park, we're assigning one trait more importance than all the others and making critical decisions based on that judgment.

In so doing, we're causing a broad social effect. We're embarking on the elimination of an entire class of people who have a history of oppression, discrimination and exclusion.
Tell me that's not scary and so sad.

Finally, here's some audio of Cameron for your listening pleasure. . . .

Therapeutic Cloning: Why we need a global ban?


Jeannett Gibson said...

This is so sad to me. I was actually just telling my growth group the other night that I not only turned down any screening tests offered to me in my pregnancy (because it wouldn't change anything for us)...but also, that I feel guilty and have not even prayed that the baby be healthy. Now, obviously, I would prefer a healthy baby, but I feel like what I am saying is: "God, this life will have more value if it is 'perfect' and doesn't come with issues." We have a dear friend whose son is autistic, and she has opened my eyes to understanding that his little life is just as precious as that of the "healthiest" little boys. It has recently struck me how many people will say (when asked which gender they prefer): "It doesn't matter, as long as it's healthy"...I know that it's almost become a saying, and that of course, no one wants their child to have life threatening illness...but it almost seems like we're inadvertantly contributing to the notion that those with disabilities are less valuable.

So, the irony is that I'm much more comfortable saying that I prefer a baby boy, than to outwardly request that it's healthy. I'm weird, I know it.

Brianna Heldt said...

I've been so challenged in my views on the value of life over the last couple of years (seeing that being pro-life means more than simply being against abortion)--and primarily, what that should practically mean for me and our family. So far it has taken us out of our comfort zones and I praise God for that!

Thanks for challenging us to think more broadly about these issues.

Suzette Lyons said...

I had those tests, and really wish I hadn't since the risk is one in one hundred of miscarriage. Which is higher than the chance of the child having a birth defect.

The State of California is really pushing those tests. If it comes up positive the State will even pay for an ultra-sound and further tests to confirm the diagnosis. I guess it is cheaper than providing the public services the child might require in the future. It seems terrible that tax dollars go for stuff like that.

On the cloning I was not surprised at all that new definitions of "cloning" were being made to allow more and more experimentation. The New Jersey law allowing anything except a live birth of a cloned baby was a little shocking. But as long as an embryo is not considered a human being worth protecting I think it is inevitable that more and more experimentation will happen.

Also, it seems ironic that a pro-abortion feminist was the main opponent of the embryonic stem cell law that passed in California. I never would have guessed.