Ken Connor

Most parents receive the news that they are "expecting" with joy and excitement. For some, however, the good news turns sour when they learn that their unborn or newly born child has Down syndrome or is afflicted with some other disability like cystic fibrosis. What parents are told about their child's future and how they are told it often influences whether that child is born at all. That's why Senators Sam Brownback and Ted Kennedy have co-sponsored the "Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act".

The act (S. 1810) mandates that health care providers provide the mother of an unborn or newly born child with "up-to-date, scientific, written information concerning the life expectancy, clinical course, and intellectual and functional development and treatment options for a fetus diagnosed with or child born with Down syndrome or other prenatally or postnatally diagnosed conditions." In addition, the health care provider must provide "referral to supportive services providers," including hotlines, resource centers, and support programs. These measures seek to ensure that medical advice to parents of developmentally disabled children is accurate and balanced.

Sadly, in today's post-Roe environment the news that a child is likely to be born with a significant handicap is often a death sentence. According to The New York Times, about ninety percent of unborn children who are diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. Moreover, when a prenatal cystic fibrosis test was developed, the number of children born with cystic fibrosis in Massachusetts dropped by fifty percent. No studies have been done to asses the cause of the drop, but the odds of this being simple coincidence are quite low. A likely cause is the prevalent cultural notion that "flawed" human beings do not have lives worth living.

Parents whose child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis are often apprehensive and frequently terrified. They have little idea what to expect for the future and even less understanding of the resources available to assist them in providing for their child. Unfortunately, their fears are often heightened by doctors who present the news as a tragedy or encourage the parents to pursue an abortion. In their time of trial, many of these parents are not given sound information about the reality of raising a handicapped child.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.