Getting Rid of the Freaks

[The following is from Richard John Neuhaus’ “While We’re At It”–the first place I turn in every issue–in the October 2006 issue of First Things, p.76. (The featured article produced by Evangelicals and Catholics Together is worth reading and pondering, as well.)]

Elizabeth R. Schiltz, a law professor, writes in BusinessWeek: “From time to time, we are all confronted with the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. I’ve always seen myself as a responsible, law-abiding citizen. I recycle, I vote, I don’t drive a Hummer. But I’ve come to realize that many in the scientific and medical community view me as grossly irresponsible. Indeed, in the words of Bob Edwards, the scientist who facilitated the birth of England’s first test-tube baby, I am a ‘sinner.’ A recent book even branded me a ‘genetic outlaw.’ My transgression? I am one of the dwindling number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and choose not to terminate our pregnancies. So when I hear about medical breakthroughs like preimplantation genetic haplotyping (PGH)–a new technique to screen embryos in the in vitro fertilization process for 6,000 inherited diseases–I can’t help but see 6,000 new reasons that parents will be branded as sinners or made to feel socially irresponsible for bringing their children into this world.” Prof. Schiltz is author of Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics. …
The late Christopher Lasch wrote that we congratulate ourselves on our moral progress because we no longer tolerate “freak shows” at the county fair. The real reason, he said, is that we are fast becoming a society that has no tolerance of, no place for, freaks. They should never have been allowed to be born. Moral discourse today, especially in the academy, is rife with talk about respecting the “other.” So long as the other is not so other as to be a burden.

On a similar note, I recommend the article, also from First Things (Oct. 1991), called “I Want to Burden my Loved Ones,” by Gilbert Meilaender.


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