First Iceland, now the Netherlands? Renate Lindeman, the organizer behind DownPride and the mother of two Down Syndrome daughters, accuses the country’s medical industry and government of pressuring mothers to abort their Down Syndrome babies after prenatal testing provides that diagnosis. Lindeman writes that the government is spreading misleading information on Down health costs in order to incentivize abortions and to implement what is essentially a eugenics program.
The language is clunky, seemingly a translation into English from Dutch (via Fr. Matthew Schneider):
Quoted Dr. Stefan Paas on twitter. ‘We haven’t come this close to Nazi before.’ The quote was taken from a letter published in a National newspaper. It stated that the freedom to birth disabled children should be limited by the ‘financial burden’ to society. Declining to abort, argues letter-writer Michael van der Lubbe, despite the availability of prenatal technology like Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), should have financial consequences for parents. His letter followed a stream of articles in the media with suggestive titles as ‘Better [off] without Down’. …
Several national newspapers have published top 10 lists of “most expensive diseases and conditions.” These lists mention Down syndrome at the top. A popular TV series aptly named ‘The Last Downer’also showed a calculation of the yearly “costs” of a person with Down syndrome to society. The source of this defamation is the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).
A quick Google search shows the truth: Down syndrome [makes] up only a small percentage (8 percent) of the group with “intellectual challenges.” Yearly, more than twice the number of children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a cause of intellectual disability, among other problems, caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. A poll among families with Down syndrome revealed that 100 percent never had a discussion with their health care provider about FAS or it’s prevention.
Cancer, the number one cause of death in the Netherlands, is missing completely from the list. Striking because according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), cancer costs the world more money than any other disease.
If the choice of venue surprises readers, perhaps it shouldn’t. Lindeman is a regular contributor at HuffPost, mainly on this topic. For instance, she challenged HuffPost readers on Iceland’s claim to have “nearly wiped out” Down Syndrome by asking, “What if Iceland was trying to ‘eradicate’ homosexuality?” Earlier, she cited selective abortion as “the real war on disabled people.” That is clearly her theme in this column too, and accuses the Netherlands of falling into the same trap as the Nazis — a particularly barbed insult for a country that suffered under Nazi occupation during World War II.
Of course, those insults go in both directions. She cites an interview in Knack with philosopher/ethicist Marcel Zuijderland, who refers to those opposed to abortions of Down babies as “Down jihadis.” He also accuses activists like Lindeman of always presenting the highest functioning Down individuals as an example in order to manipulate the debate (translation by Bing):
And I call Down now, because the discussion is in fact limited to that. You never hear, “Oh, uh, a world without children with [spina bifida], we should not want that ?!” But a world without down, that’s obviously a scare. Hey? Is it such a party to have Down then?
That discussion is also pretty fake by whom I sometimes call down the jihadi’s: they are always about the ‘best’ 5 or 10 percent of people with Down. They are performed in talkshows, rolling in movies or studying even at the university. And indeed, there are people with Down with an academic bull. Three. In the whole world. The big majority, who has a serious mental disability in an institution? It is not about them. And they are also not so sweet and frightening and disarming and always excited, as the cliché wants.
The translation is clumsy, but the point remains pretty clear, which is this: You have to break some eggs to make a eugenics omelette. If this demonstrates the philosophy driving public policy in the Netherlands, then Lindeman’s correct to shoot up the warning flare. As she also demonstrates, the data used to promote selective abortion does come from the government, as incomplete and arguably inaccurate as it may be.
So far, like Iceland, the Netherlands has not required abortion — but they’re putting plenty of pressure on mothers to abort, Lindeman alleges, including some discussion of fines for those who don’t. Writing last month at The Federalist about similar social, medical, and government pressures in Iceland, Georgi Boorman called this “Nudgenics,” and warned that prenatal testing for selective abortions would shortly join euthanasia and assisted suicide in transforming from “choice” into “duty”:
As Hulda Hjartardottir, head of the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit at the hospital where the vast majority of Icelandic babies are born, noted, “We try to do as neutral counseling as possible, but some people would say that just offering the test is pointing you towards a certain direction.” In other words, women are being nudged toward the test, but the counseling that comes after a positive result, if we are to believe Stefansson, applies more pressure. A 100 percent termination rate upon positive results certainly indicates that is the case.
Yes, it’s technically a choice to take the test. Even if the test were to be mandated, the choice to continue your pregnancy is entirely up to you. As a letter to the UN expressing concern over prenatal screening for Down Syndrome and other genetic markers of disability framed the problem, “History repeats itself. The extermination of ‘unwanted’ persons from society happens sooner and is slickly marketed as ‘individual choice’. The effect on society is the same.” …
The developed world is experiencing “nudgenics”: eugenics via nudge (and beyond that, overt pressure from doctors and other individuals). But victims are victims regardless of whether the act was a product of coercion, persuasion, or merely “choice architecture,” as Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler call it in “Nudge.”
Slopes don’t get more slippery than this. When the state nudges, shames, or outright dictates women into selective abortions, it reopens the Pandora’s box of the early 20th century — because at some point, force will have to get used in order to comply, and that goes for all of the utilitarian policies of modern Western culture in regard to human life.