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Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Publisher’s Note: This article is based upon testimony submitted on January 22, 2013 to the North Dakota House Human Services Committee concerning HB 1305.


One of the many important bills of the 2013 North Dakota Legislative Session is House Bill 1305 which, in essence,  forbids the practice of using genetic testing as a screening procedure for abortion on the basis of sex or genetically defined disability.  The effects of genetic screening are brutal for the rejected human populations, and the socially dehumanizing ramifications of the practice, and the long-term prospects for its expansion, with increasing capabilities developed with genetic mapping, are deeply concerning. 

One of the most dangerous human traits is our infinite ability to rationalize our own self interest when confronted with situations that may cause us  perceived or feared inconvenience or hardship.  For this reason, to subject the definition and the protection of human life to a vague and sliding scale, subject to change based on human emotion, is a grave danger to any civilized society.  History has shown that it  is easy to ignore or even define away the humanity of others when they are inconvenient. It's even easier when the inconvenient people are silent  or powerless and cannot resist their extermination. 

My daughter, Ann Marie, has Down Syndrome.  She is 26 years old.  She lives with her parents and helps in the home, she works at a motel making beds and she peels potatos for a delicatessan.  She is good at what she does, she loves doing it, and she is proud.  Annie has always been a source of love and happiness for all who have known her, her family,  teachers, coaches, coworkers, and fellow students.  Ann has aspirations like anyone else.  She loves life, she values her privileges, and takes pride in her work, and she fears injury and death. Annie is simply a person with her own unique traits – like all of us. 

Not long ago my sister, who has worked for 35 years as an intensive care and oncology nurse at Minneapolis Children's hospital, was introduced to a staff  child development expert who works with disabled children.  My sister commented on what a joy it must be to work with Down children.  The person  bitterly replied, “what are you talking about?  There aren't any more Down children.  They abort them all!”

The Annies are now being systematically exterminated before birth.  A recent  (1999) paper published in the journal “Prenatal Diagnosis, Vol. 18, Issue 9, pages 808-812  reviewing the literature on termination rates of pregnancies for various genetic traits detected using prenatal testing, reported that 91 to 93% of all Down babies detected are destroyed in their mothers' wombs.  Numbers differed for other  traits, like spinebifeda and Turners Syndrome. The lowest was Klinefelter syndrome, with a destruction rate of about 58%. Klinefelter syndrome, which is the male chromosomal equivalent of Down syndrome, involves mainly some peculiarities of body shape, and not necessarily abnormal intellectual traits. 

Now it was one thing, and bad enough, that a mother, out of fear and with state sanction and lack of loving support, destroy the child in her womb.  But it is another dangerous and socially degrading step, that genetic testing has been turned to the task of providing a quality product through the detection and cold and rational liquidation of those having undesirable traits.  In doing so we have crossed the border into eugenics, and have entered a territory that in other contexts has already in the last century cost the lives of millions already born.  Selective killing of the undesirable – by race, by disability, by gender in not new. 

The social ramifications of the test, select and slaughter mentality extend beyond the destruction of the child.  The use of prenatal testing to screen and destroy the child based on  genetic traits, creates an unreasonable fear for those who have not experienced the love and uniqueness of these special people.  But now picture a young couple, a mother who wants more than anything to bear her child being pressured into an abortion by a frightened husband, or a father whose every instinct is to protect his child, helpless to stop his frightened wife from destroying the child.  Now picture disrespect and bitterness, a broken marriage, and perhaps the effects of that bitterness, or that divorce on other children in the family, and on society.  I know what I'm talking about here.  I know what it means to be confronted with the reality of a child we did not expect.  I know what it means to be afraid. But I also know about the love and special gifts that these people, and they are people, bring.  Also, I know that for those faced with these challenges there is plenty of support.  They are not alone.

Healthy societies need the representation of many human traits.  Narrow selection of human traits determined by preference can cause severe imbalances and strange and harmful social configurations. In societies like China, which have forced abortion to limit population, preference for males has caused the murder and abandonment of girl babies, which eventually has caused an imbalance in the male to female ratio.  This has caused a situation in which young men cannot find brides – one of the most basic of human needs.  This, in turn, has caused kidnapping and trafficing in women – more abuse of women.  One need not have  the tyranny of forced abortion to create skewed societies.  It is very possible for a society that has arrogated the right and ability to “screen and glean” human beings as a matter of individual choice to twist itself into a sorrowful mess. 

Test, select and slaughter by gender or by traits classifed as abnormalities, if it is allowed, is only the beginning of the eugenic selection that will evolve with growing genetic knowledge if it is allowed to take hold. The criteria of selection, and the limitations of who will be allowed to survive gestation, can be expected to expand as detection of genetic traits expands, and the “shopping cart” mentality toward children, the belief that a child is a property for me to “have” is legally sanctioned.  Selective eugenics is a social poison, and a virtual pandora’s box, that should not be opened. 

For those who would say, leave it up to the experts, the medical professionals, I would point out to the committee that medical science, for all the wonderful benefits it has bestowed upon human society, has not had an uncheckered ethical track record; that medical personnel, as such, are neither more nor less moral or ethical – or wise than others; and that without appropriate checks and limitations the profession has had its share of disastrous ethical failures, some of which I could, but will not here enumerate.  The more recent development of the process of test, select and slaughter is one of those failures.  It is not unreasonable that the people of this state, in protecting human life, expect that the medical profession practice its skills without deliberate killing.  I would urge the committee and the Legislature to protect all human life from deliberate unjust killing, and to reject any amendment that would allow the slaughter of unborn human beings simply for the purpose of selecting what they or someone else, thinks to be a  better product.


The people of North Dakota need to encourage their legislature to pass House Bill 1305. 


Click here to email your elected representatives.


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