George Will

One mother who participated in a study of 3,000 members of five state associations of parents of Down syndrome children reported that when, in 1999, she was told that the baby she was expecting had Down syndrome, a geneticist showed her "a really pitiful video first of people with Down syndrome who were very low tone and lethargic-looking and then proceeded to tell us that our child would never be able to read, write or count change." Try telling that to Jon Will as he navigates Washington's subway system to use his season tickets to the Wizards basketball games and (soon) Nationals baseball games.

When he was born in 1972 -- a time when an episode on a network television hospital drama asserted that people with Down syndrome could not be toilet-trained -- the hospital geneticist asked Jon's parents if they intended to take him home. That question is, surely, no longer asked when Down syndrome babies are born. But there are modern pressures to prevent such babies from being born, pressures that include the perfection-is-an-entitlement attitude of some expecting parents.

The mother's 1999 experience indicates the need for Sen. Sam Brownback's bill, the Prenatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act. Its purpose is "to increase the provision of scientifically sound information and support services to patients" who receive positive test diagnoses for Down syndrome, spina bifida and other conditions. Under this bill, parents could learn, for example, that there is a waiting list of families eager to adopt children with Down syndrome.

Michael Howard, leader of Britain's Conservative Party, promises that if his party wins the May 5 general election, he will have Parliament debate lowering to 20 weeks the legal time limit for abortion. According to a Sunday Telegraph poll, that change is favored by 53 percent of all voters and by a large majority of female and younger voters.

Such temperate adjustments of law are possible in a constitutional monarchy governed by a parliament. In our constitutional republic governed by judges, lawmakers have less latitude for making law. Brownback's bill is surely an unobjectionable exercise of that latitude. If it is not unobjectionable, let's identify the objectors, who probably favor the pernicious quest -- today's "respectable" eugenics -- for a disability-free society.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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