liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So a brave and much-admired gynaecologist was murdered in America, and lots of people are upset and frightened by this attack. May Dr Tiller rest in peace, and may all of you who are grieving or in shock find the best comfort you can.

The internet being what it is, several people are responding to Dr Tiller's death by rehashing the abortion debate. Some of it is the absolute usual stuff, with people parotting the same old talking points from the two camps (though the "pro-life" side are perhaps slightly more embarrassed and subdued than usual after the atrocity perpetrated in their name). And feminists getting into long, passionate arguments with people basically on their side about whether any desire to reduce unwanted pregnancy is an attack on women's autonomy and right to choose.

But because the late Dr Tiller specialized in "late-term" abortions, the pro-choice voices are focusing more than usual on the reasons why abortions of fully developed foetuses are sometimes necessary. There's a desire to put a human face on the debate by retelling stories of women who had to have late-term abortions. And, well, these stories follow a certain format or even style, which is not surprising due to the way that the internet magnifies and reflects things back. The model is that we have a couple who are joyfully waiting for the birth of a beloved and wanted child, and go for a scan at the six month point and suddenly find out that something has gone horribly wrong, so the only possible option is to have an abortion, and everybody is devastated, but deeply grateful for the existence of doctors like Tiller for averting an even greater tragedy.

I can see that the point is to present cases where the mother who chooses abortion is as sympathetic as she could possibly be, and counteract the pro-life propaganda against selfish, promiscuous, careless women who kill their babies on a whim. Fair enough as a rhetorical tactic, but I'm a little worried about what traits are needed to make a woman sympathetic. She has to be married, she has to be a potentially ideal mother, and it helps a lot if she's middle class and respectable. I'd like to hear some stories about women who are in unconventional relationships or none, or who have perhaps at some stage expressed the slightest possible doubt about whether they really truly want a baby, or who maybe do have some worries about whether they can afford to raise a child. After all, if the point of the rhetoric is that these late term abortions are necessary to save women's lives, then surely it shouldn't matter how saintly the women in question are. Medical necessity is necessity, emergency treatment in a life-threatening situation shouldn't be a reward for living up to the romanticized ideal of Motherhood.

The other thing that's really, really bugging me is the "something has gone horribly wrong" part of this style of story. The much loved and wanted baby turns out to have a congenital defect, so all of a sudden it's no longer a loved and wanted baby, it's a terrible tragedy. The only possibly humane thing to do is to kill it as quickly as possible so that it doesn't have to suffer. In some of the stories, the baby is already dead or obviously non-viable. In others, the baby has spina bifida or a hole in the heart or bone problems or an unspecified "genetic condition". There are heart-string tugging descriptions of how the baby if brought to term would need massive surgery, or be in terrible pain, or be born with cancer, or have a learning disability, or would never learn to walk, or would be... (and this is an actual example from one of the "my heartbreaking late term abortion" stories I've read) incontinent. And all these things are considered to be equivalent to the baby developing without lungs or a brain.

The thing is, there are people I love who are in a lot of pain, or needed significant surgery at some point in their life, or have cancer, or need expensive medical treatment or long-term care. And I'm basically too upset to even talk about how a baby which is predicted to be unable to walk or toilet herself absolutely must be killed right now, otherwise the parents and doctors are evil cruel monsters for bringing such a tragedy into the world. And yes, I understand that the pro-choice movement puts a lot of weight on arguing that a foetus is not a person. But this kind of rhetoric about the kind of babies that absolutely must be aborted no matter what hurts real people who are currently alive.

Note I'm not proposing that anyone should be forced to carry to term a baby she doesn't want. Please don't accuse me of taking that position! I'm saying that the people who are arguing so passionately in favour of abortion rights should select their arguments with care. Sometimes the pro-life side are accused of only caring about the life of pure innocent little unborn babies, but not actual living humans (and that accusation is certainly true in the case of the evil man who murdered Dr Tiller, and those extremists who encouraged him and are celebrating his action.) But at this stage in the debate, it's coming across as if some of the pro-choice side only care about the rights and autonomy of women who are young and healthy and able-bodied and neurotypical and preferably pretty and socially valued (and I have this sinking feeling that pretty is really a figleaf for "white, middle-class and sexually conservative").

Pretty much the only people I've seen addressing this issue are the wonderful Kay Olson and Wheelchair dancer. And that only in comments buried deep in a blog discussion. I want to add my voice to theirs, with a top level post, not that I have all that much traffic or prominence.

PS: I'm going to be pretty harsh about deleting comments that don't acknowledge people with disabilities as people. If you can't talk about people, not "tragedies" or "burdens" or "medical costs", please don't talk to me about this topic at all. And I don't particularly want to hear your personal views on the abortion debate in general either, because that's strongly missing the point of what I'm trying to say.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 02:19 pm (UTC)
kass: white cat; "kass" (Default)
From: [personal profile] kass
This is such tough stuff. I agree with you that there's something deeply troubling about the rhetoric which paints these situations in the way you describe.

My own sense is that if I were to discover that the fetus I was carrying were going to be disabled (is that even the term to use in this instance?) I would need to grieve a while for the healthy baby of my fantasies. (It's hard to be pregnant and not have fantasies about what the baby is going to be like.) I think I would then prepare myself to be the best mother I could be to the baby who was coming, and I think my spouse would go through a similar set of transitions... but there's no way for me to know what that would really be like.

At this moment I can't imagine choosing an abortion, but I don't know that. I guess I'm wishing I were seeing more empathy on the part of people who aren't in the shoes of the pregnant woman who discovers scary news. If it were me facing that situation, I don't entirely know how I would respond, and there are so many things that play into that question -- my religious tradition, my faith, my finances, my partner (and his religious tradition, faith, finances, etc) -- it just seems like hubris to me to imagine that anyone else would seek to tell me how to respond to something so personal as this.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, for my own reasons, so it resonates for me in a very personal way. I hope this comment isn't too personal to seem relevant to the larger conversation.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 05:54 pm (UTC)
kass: white cat; "kass" (Default)
From: [personal profile] kass
Yes, absolutely -- there needs to be empathy for all of us: standards of maternal perfection (ha!) as well as everyone else on the spectrum of bodies, sizes, abilities, illnesses, the whole gamut.

And I really appreciate your point that the pro-choice camp needs to be careful about the implications of the rhetoric we're slinging. It's one thing for an individual woman or couple to make their own choices, based on her/their own needs and abilities, but it's another thing entirely to imply that any given choice is the right one...especially when the way that choice is framed seems to diminish the lives of those who live with the very conditions that may be cause, in someone else's mind, to terminate a pregnancy because the prospect is too much to bear.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 02:33 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I'm sorry. One of my brothers is in constant pain and will develop some impairments over the next decade due to damage to his bones from an accident a few years ago. It doesn't make his life any less valuable. He's very glad to be alive and we're all so thankful that he's still with us.

I'd like to link to a blog post I've probably linked to in my own blog but I just love. It might give you hope when it feels like you're just banging your head against a wall of assumptions that people with disabilities aren't worth it, that you never know what your words might do when you challenge that view. I know that I've learnt about neurodiversity from you. http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/2008/03/spring-comes-early.html

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 09:32 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
I think most families probably include someone with a disability, if I just think of my friends and how many have a cousin with autism or a father with a prosthetic leg. My brother's not what people think of as one of those sorts of disabled people. His impairments are relatively minor and physical and you wouldn't realise that he was disabled from looking at him unless you bothered to count his fingers (he's got one fewer than most people). I didn't realise he was in constant pain until he mentioned it at a family wedding the year before last when he was chatting to our mum. It made me think a bit about the way that lots of people talk as if chronic pain is a fate worse than death and whilst I acknowledge that it does affect quality of life, it certainly doesn't make a life not worth living.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 11:25 am (UTC)
403: Listen to the song of the paper cranes... (Cranesong)
From: [personal profile] 403
I know someone who used to be in the "right to die" movement. Then she changed doctors and got decent pain management, and she says the need to escape from her life (she still has significant disabilities) stopped immediately.

Just a data point that might be useful in figuring out what motivates such things.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 03:14 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
My brother just really doesn't like taking opiates. It's not an ideological position, he just doesn't like the way they make him feel. One of his comments after he got out of hospital was that he really couldn't understand why anyone would take heroine because he hated being on morphine.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 04:09 am (UTC)
leora: a statue of a golden snake swallowing its own tail. (ouroboros)
From: [personal profile] leora
Some people in the disability community refer to those who aren't disabled as the temporarily-abled. I think "currently-abled" might be more precise. But the basic idea is that while you may or may not be disabled, anyone can become disabled at any time. And if you're lucky enough to lead a very long life, then you're highly likely to lose some of your abilities.

It's probably better and healthier to accept that you can do what you currently can do and that that what things you can do will change in all sorts of ways throughout your life. But that smacks of also accepting your own mortality, which is an incredibly difficult thing for many people to do. I think a lot of problems people have with people who have disabilities is fear. It reminds them that they may have disabilities someday.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 09:18 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
My brother's accident gave a jolt to my world view. I became a lot more aware that most of life is uncertain and beyond one's control. It made me think that rather than everyone trying to bolster their own position and trying to hold back the uncertainty, we should accept the uncertainty and build a society where we'd all be OK when stuff happened. Sorry, that's a bit ineloquent.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 03:08 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
I'm a little worried about what traits are needed to make a woman sympathetic. She has to be married, she has to be a potentially ideal mother, and it helps a lot if she's middle class and respectable. [...] After all, if the point of the rhetoric is that these late term abortions are necessary to save women's lives, then surely it shouldn't matter how saintly the women in question are.

(Disclaimer: I haven't seen any of this rhetoric myself and am going entirely by your description.)

My immediate reaction to this would be to assume the aim is to cut the ground out from under the people who do care how saintly the women are: if they've got it fixed in their head that only 'immoral' women need abortion in the first place and therefore outlawing it wouldn't inconvenience anyone they can't find an excuse not to care about, then presenting one of these saintly models-of-motherhood as the example is a way of removing that argument from them. At which point, one picks one's "saintliness" traits not so as to reflect one's own moral ideals, but so as to match as closely as possible the moral ideals of the person one's arguing against.

Of course, one can also argue that they shouldn't be starting from that premise in the first place. If somebody says "A, therefore B", one can attack the argument on the basis that A is false and on the basis that A doesn't imply B anyway, and the latter need not rule out the former.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 06:31 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
I see what you mean on both points - the 'saintly woman in need' trope and the 'disabled baby as something terrible' trope and I'm not sure they don't feed into each other in a way which makes the debate even more exclusionary of women who _choose_ to have terminations.

What struck me most in the accounts I read was the way that many of the women who offered stories emphasised how much they had wanted the babies they were carrying, and how agonising it was to have to make the decision over whether to abort or carry them to term knowing that they'd have short and/or difficult, painful lives. Momentarily leaving aside the issue you've discussed about the way in which having a disabled baby is presented as an insurmountable catastrophe, the point which got through to me is that none of these women had really _chosen_ to have an abortion. Of course, no-one actually sets out to have an abortion, but women who have them usually choose freely to do so and when that's not the case it is cause for serious concern (I'm referring to being coerced into doing so by family/partner). When you chiefly focus on women who had to come to Dr Tiller as a last resort but otherwise really, really wanted to be mothers, that seems to fit the 'saintly white/middle-class/het/partnered lady' description. They wouldn't have chosen an abortion, it was forced on them by the Terrible Tragedy of having an inviable (by whatever definition) fetus.

I see this linking in to your comment above that "abortion has to be legal, because otherwise admirable and saintly women are going to die grisly deaths". And that really strongly implies that it doesn't matter if less saintly women die horribly, which is a major rhetorical problem, no matter whom you're trying to convince because it sets up having an abortion as one of those things that admirable and saintly women don't willingly do unless the circumstances are really very dire. It sets up a worst-case scenario, consciously or not, which counteracts anti-abortion arguments against late terminations by presenting the decision as absolutely agonising - which I'm sure it is, in many cases. But it does seem to distract attention from the majority of terminations, which are freely decided on, and carried out early, on non-saintly, non-admirable women, who aren't necessarily deeply traumatised by them.

Aside from all nit-picking, it is very saddening. I mean, shot in a house of worship, for goodness' sake. It's also scary for maternal health that there are so few specialists left in that area.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-06 01:47 pm (UTC)
nanaya: Sarah Haskins as Rosie The Riveter, from Mother Jones (Default)
From: [personal profile] nanaya
Of course, no-one actually sets out to have an abortion

Unless you are Aliza Schvarts - although of course, that was "a hoax".

(FWIW, I was entirely fine with the concept of that project as well.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 04:24 am (UTC)
leora: A heart-shaped tea-holder and the word "tea". (tea)
From: [personal profile] leora
Well, I'm strongly pro-choice, but I do think that if you're going to have an abortion the earlier into the pregnancy the better. It's not about cuteness, it's about brain development and development of personhood. I don't think it's a binary where something is or isn't a person. I think it slowly develops, and I don't think it's all that done at birth. But I definitely think there is less in the early stages than the later ones.

I dislike all killing of anything alive regardless of species. But I think some killing is absolutely necessary. And I think that killing is sometimes the best choice of sad options. I honestly wish we didn't need to eat to live, but we do, and I'm not going to stop eating. I think abortion is important because I think the well being of the woman and her choice whether or not to have a child is more important than the life of the thing developing. I don't give it a lot of moral weight until it is much further developed. But I still think killing it is unfortunate. But if you have to kill something, I'd rather it be as undeveloped as possible. (This is part of why I wish people wouldn't eat pigs or octopus. Eating something more intelligent than a dog or a cat bothers me. While I won't eat animals, I admit that chickens are ~stupid~. Cows are pretty stupid too. But pigs aren't. I would never dream of eating our pet cat, even though admittedly she's pretty dumb. Yet people can eat a pig that is far, far more aware of the world and itself than she probably is.)

So, late term is more unfortunate. I think it should be avoided to the extent that is reasonable. This is part of why I think it's important to make abortion very easy to obtain. The easier it is to obtain, the earlier in the pregnancy it can be done. This is also why I strongly support birth control and folic acid for that matter, since avoiding the need for an abortion whenever possible is best, of course, but we'll never fully avoid the need for some abortions.

I just think that the abortion is the right thing when the woman wants it. But I think it's the right thing in an unfortunate situation that I wish didn't exist. Whereas with earlier term abortions, the earlier it is into things, the less I really care. I mean, I wash my hands more than once per day and kill countless cells. If you can catch a pregnancy in the few cell stage it's nearly equivalent. I rip out weeds more often than I'd like to (tedious, awful task) which is pretty similar to me ethically. I don't like doing it, but I do it. I've killed countless fleas and flies and only really felt bad about a small number of particular insects I accidentally killed in very nasty ways. That's probably covering something equivalent to a non late-term abortion to me. A late-term abortion is likely to be something more aware than a flea. So, a fairly regrettable thing to do. But I'd kill a bird before I'd let a woman come to serious harm or psychological pain. So, I'm not against it. But it does bother me more.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 08:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ixwin.livejournal.com
I hadn't actually thought about the "nice respectable middle-class woman" aspect of the thing (partly because I only read one of such stories, presumably one of the ones you mention as it also referred to incontinence) but I did feel similarly with regard to the way abortion was presented as the obvious response to carrying a foetus with significant disabilities. Like you, I don't want to blame the woman or claim she made the wrong choice, but I do think it reflects something worrying in society's (and particularly the medical profession's?) attitude to disability. I found it disturbing (and telling) that the woman's obstetrician dumped her once the anomalies had been discovered because she "only dealt with healthy pregnancies."

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 02:45 am (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
I think you might be missing a couple-three things in your analysis of this.

Firstly, the stories from the US feature well-to-do, generally white, middle class women because those are going to be statistically over-represented in the group getting pre-natal care that includes things like amniocentesis and ultrasounds, which are not typically included in medical coverage even when people have it. If you aren't getting that kind of medical care, you're not going to be in a position to decide about a late-term abortion because you won't know there's a problem. Well-off white women are going to be fairly massively over-represented in the list of those actually getting late term abortions, even up to the point where they were effectively banned in 2003. (Keep in mind that the procedures are not generally taught in the US; the ability to perform them is passing out of the medical profession there. There are also liability issues driving some of the specialization patterns; it's entirely possible that the original obstetrician really did only deal with healthy pregnancies because that was the scope of her liability coverage.)

Secondly, if they can tell from a six-months ultrasound that development has gone sufficiently awry that any resulting child will be incontinent, what they're saying is "really serious autonomic nervous system issues"; if we read the same article, "may or may not be able to breath unassisted" was included in the autonomic nervous system list of issues.

Thirdly, you're apparently assuming a pregnancy results directly in a person. This is, to my mind, a sort of category error. (Kinda like considering "chronic pain" one thing.)

Pregnancy never directly produces a person; it can't.

The thing that creates the person is that at least one pre-existing person makes the decision to rear the baby as their child. All those bedtime stories, changed diapers, cuddles, and teaching are what produce the person. We're each and every only people because other people made us so; it's an inescapable consequence of how human brain growth works. So, yes, you've got to have the baby before you can have the person, but a baby is a necessary and in no way sufficient condition for person-producing.

So what a potential parent is faced with is fundamentally a decision about whether or not they can do the work to turn the baby they expect into a person. This is by all reports tough to do when the child is entirely healthy and whole. In some of the pathological cases, it's not possible no matter what resources are available -- no brain, no heart, other things that preclude any possibility of viability -- and in a bunch of others, it's got some degree or other of a possibility of being possible, where the possibility can be known fairly well or not beyond the level of vague guesswork or everything in between.

I don't think there's a simple set of rules that can be applied to those possibility-of-being-possible situations; I also don't think it's wrong for people to decide that "this will consume my life and has no better than a 50/50 chance of producing an independent person; I don't want to do it".

That's not the same case as an existing person with disabilities; that's not a question of "do I think I can?", an existing person is a case of somebody already did. Confusing the cases isn't helpful. It happens a lot, but I think it would happen less if the person-producing process were not commonly elided from the discussion.

And, sort of fourthly, the rhetoric around the issue in the States has collapsed to a sort of rear-guard effort to get the more-dead-women faction to acknowledge that there's something wrong with their moral absolutes by presenting cases which ought to provoke a moral contradiction. It's not working, but it's very difficult to get the discussion out of the established frame, which has become attached to a lot of fundamental identity issues.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 07:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ixwin.livejournal.com
I don't see where [personal profile] liv is making the third assumption.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 04:32 am (UTC)
leora: A girl in a garden on a swing. The setting is dusky and somewhat fantasyish. (reveries)
From: [personal profile] leora
On a side note, I'm fairly sure I have a memory from when I was pre-verbal. I definitely have memories from when I was newly verbal (one I know was just shortly after my second birthday).

While I don't think a newborn baby is as much a person as you or I, I tend to grant it full personhood because I like to err on the side of caution and I think birth makes a very good cut-off point. Whereas if we actually tried to determine the extent to which something is thinking and aware, it'd be a mess.

Besides, there's been a trend in psychology to realize that infants and children tend to know things at an earlier age than we thought they did, because the knowing seems to come before the ability to express that well or coordinate and use that knowledge (which makes some sense).

So while I think I tend to be a bad datapoint as I am usually an outlier, I definitely have some concern for the pre-verbal. Also, of course, there are cases of people with disabilities who stay non-verbal for very long lengths of time and often when they do learn to communicate they have a lot to say about how aware they were, while not being able to speak.

It's definitely a very tricky subject.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 06:21 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
The point I was trying to make about personhood was not about a state, or collection of states (awareness, memory, accumulation and manipulation of facts, expression of all or any of those things) but about a requirement of process.

Human newborns and infants unequivocally must have at least one existing person care for them or they will die. (Contrast ducklings, say; we're way-far off in the parental care end of things, even for a primate.) If the existing person does not do a lot of cuddling and talking and playing, you don't get the brain development that leads to having a person; there are examples in the literature of this sort of thing, it's quite horrible.

So the point I'm making is not about when or where personhood begins; it's about the unquestionably unavoidable work somebody is going to have to do. I don't think the border of personhood is relevant to the question or a good basis for public policy, precisely because it is not subject to quantified definition.

The work of infant care, though, that's entirely quantifiable. The degree to which circumstances make that easier or harder are readily quantifiable as well. Any actual pro-women rhetoric would be looking at quantifying that amount of work, and policy that would act to reduce or more widely distribute it. The rhetoric we've got is generally working vigorously to keep all that effort elided and assumed, because it is coming from a maintain-women-as-chattel position.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 07:29 pm (UTC)
leora: a statue of a golden snake swallowing its own tail. (ouroboros)
From: [personal profile] leora
Umm, but that argument applies to me. I can't survive independently either. I might be able to survive only with government assistance if i lived in England. I hear about people in England getting people who come to their house and help with meals and housework when they're seriously disabled. If I had something like that combined with the simplicity of the medical system there, I could probably now manage with the disability aids I have. Of course, I wouldn't have made it this far without a much larger degree of care back when I often couldn't manage sitting up and walking around and the intermittent aphasia was bad.

I live in the US though, so while I get some money from the government, it isn't enough to hire someone to help out with chores. It'd be hard for me to even just live on it. If I didn't have help, it's quite questionable if I'd survive.

And then there are people in far worse shape than I am. I'm not bed-ridden; I'm just partially housebound.

Hmm, or is your point just that all that work falls onto the parents? Of course, the parents could give the baby up for adoption just after its born. A nasty prospect, in my opinion, but not to everyone. I would far, far rather abort a baby than give it up for adoption, and a baby with severe disabilities is not as likely to get a good home.

I don't know. I'm just not sure that argument is that persuasive. For me, the issues are the relative degrees of personhood, how each being's wellbeing will be affected, and that one creature is inside another and you should be able to do what you want with your own body and if you want independence, don't go inside other people's bodies unless you're sure they're okay with having you there. Dependence is just such a tricky thing.

Although I do agree that the amount of work of parenting should be recognized, along with the fact that it may be a lot more work depending on the disability.

On a side note, I find failure to thrive fascinating. While it is only known to be relevant to the young, I like to play it safe and tell those I am in a relationship with to be sure to give me lots of hugs. Besides, I'm short enough I could clearly use more thriving. (alas, I have missed my window for that I fear)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 08:06 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
I didn't make an argument about independent survival, did I?

Any such argument would be inherently silly; no human can survive independently even at neolithic tech levels. (The only things more heavily adapted for functioning in groups than humans are eusocial insects, and they're mostly haploid, so in a lot of ways it doesn't count as a group, it's a distributed organism.)

It's really hard to get good answers to any of these questions when thinking in terms of types, rather than patterns of variation over a population.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 08:43 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
(Tangentially? It's not "given a chance to develop into an actual person"; it's "caused to develop into an actual person", for everybody. It's a function of human social interaction in an irreducible way.)

Well, the problem with "beyond reason" is that they're not going to give up on their own; defeat happens in somebody's brain, and they're using a cultural template that treats any result as a reason to try harder. One of the things I very much hope is not the case is that the US is headed at an equivalent of the 30 Year's War, but I wouldn't take any bets on this at all.

The "condemn them to a life of suffering" argument, well, I think that has three addressable parts.

One is the usual thinking-by-types failure; to be disabled (which is being used as a type label) is to suffer, and if you don't believe that suffering is virtuous (which fewer and fewer people have since effective analgesics became available...), you get a pattern where adding disabled people to the world is an undiluted cruelty, and to commit an undiluted cruelty would obviously make you a bad person, and avoiding being a bad person is good, so it's OK to abort a disabled/damaged fetus because that partakes of the good of not being a bad person. I think the fix for this one as a failure of understanding is to pound on the type-based thinking as an error; "disabled" is a label for being unusually dependent on others in some respect, and there's a lot of room for finding examples of "unusually dependent on others" that are not described as disabilities as well as all the standard examples of how people are a population, not instances of a type.

Two is that "evil to bring a disabled child into the world" conflates potential with actual; potential is a bet with the future, which is both unknowable and where all harm lies. There's some rhetorical room for pushing on "this is a person" versus "this might be a person, but the risk is great and the odds are bad", since if you take this argument out of a human reproductive context it's familiar to everybody, since it's the standard set of questions about evaluating future risk. That approach also allows for treating existing disabled people as successes, because they got a better result out of their future than they might have.

Three is the cystic fibrosis thought experiment. An otherwise completely normal and healthy fetus is identified by pre-natal diagnosis (presumably amniocentesis) to have cystic fibrosis.

Now, if you get treatment, your current life expectancy with cystic fibrosis is somewhere in the vicinity of 40, so about half the population life expectancy for Anglo NorAm. That's increased; in the 1970s, the life expectancy for a cystic fibrosis sufferer was 14. The treatment options may or may not continue to get better. (It might take adult somatic cell gene therapy to get much better, for instance, and that might turn out to be really hard to do in a non-lethal way. Or it might not; there is no knowing which right now.)

Having the disease doesn't affect your brain or your ability to function socially or otherwise be a person; it'll present you with a lot of health challenges, some of which are activity constraints, and the very high probability of a protracted and painful death.

The thought experiment comes in by postulating "ok, you decided to have the baby and rear the child; at the age of 15, they (having really hit the age of reason and figured out that the future is real) ask you why, when you knew they would be such a long time dying, you elected to bring them into the world?"

There are an awful lot of possible answers to that; there are people who can honestly reply "but I wouldn't have", people who can honestly reply "you are as God made you, and His reasons are good reasons, even if we do not understand them", and a whole lot of other people who have different answers.

From a rhetorical standpoint, though, having the hypothetical kid ask the question might make it easier to stay out of axiomatic abstractions that there is a single correct response to the category of question. (Especially if someone points out that everybody dies, and not necessarily well. How is this different from having a normal child?) Getting off the axioms and getting some combination of thought and empathy in play is pretty much required to get to a place where the answers aren't derived from identity issues.

One of the worst parts of all this as an identity is the specific type of "good person", and identifying with that type; it makes it very difficult to suggest that someone might not have chosen to do the best thing, or that there isn't one best thing that every good person would choose to do.

The flipped version, the "total depravity" theology that says everyone is a bad person and is incapable of being good on their own, is not of the character of an improvement. And it's generally speaking one of those two you're dealing with as the default anywhere the public morality is strongly informed by Protestant Christianity. It makes it very tough to get people to hear things in terms of choice and risk and the decision being a function of judgment about realizable possibility rather a function of the amount of goodness. (And the start of this, the late term abortion stories you were criticizing on grounds of framing, are *certainly* in the frame of amount of goodness.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 09:53 am (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 10:20 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I largely agree. I find the rhetoric on this subject very annoying, partly because it dehumanizes disabled people and partly because it de-emphasises *choice*, which is the thing I really want people to have. A story about a woman who's fetus is non-viable and is going to kill her isn't really a story about choice ("die, so that you can give birth to a dead baby, or have an abortion", wow, great choice that!) - whilst it is an argument for the necessity of having at least some doctors willing & able to perform late term abortions no matter what the law/custom regarding choosing late term abortions "because I want one" is, it's not to me a particularly pro-choice sort of argument.

I think that it's conceding a huge amount of ground to the opposition when pro-choice advocates start making these arguments; if the arguments were coming from people in a more undecided position on the abortion debate then it would be less depressing. But I think that a key part of keeping the "middle" position somewhere that I am reasonably happy with is having people who are willing to stand up and say "dammit, I should be able to get a late term abortion because I *want* one".

I also find the level of disability at which people are saying an abortion is "medically necessary" rather than a choice is really shocking. Yes, some foetal abnormalities result in a 0% chance of a live baby being born; but other don't - people like with learning disabilities, people live with bodies that need surgery. I do think that for some parents the choice to have a child was only narrowly affordable to start with, and the choice to have a severely disabled child would be one that they can't afford (this is another evil of the US health care system - that the care for a disabled infant will need to be paid for by the parents); but in too many of these stories it seems that people are envisioning their "perfect" child but not willing to deal with anything else, I wonder how they plan to deal with their child not being perfect (I doubt any child is) as they grow up.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-06 01:31 pm (UTC)
nanaya: Sarah Haskins as Rosie The Riveter, from Mother Jones (Default)
From: [personal profile] nanaya
I think I probably made my position on abortion most clear in this post from last year. I'm not simply pro-choice, I'm pro-abortion, in that I believe it is a positive social good. I'm substantially uninterested in assessing reasons why people want to have abortions because I believe that, like being in a relationship, nobody should need to justify "no". If you don't want to go out with someone, I don't think it should matter if the reasons you don't want to go out with them are the most appalling, racist, ableist, classist, cis-privileged, whatever reasons on the planet - they made make you a terrible person but you should never be compelled to engage in what should be a relationship of love and choice. I feel this perhaps even more strongly about parenting, because the child doesn't have the choice to end the relationship (until much older), so all the responsibility falls to the parent.

So, if you know you're not going to be a good parent because you don't want a disabled child, you still shouldn't have one because the risk of bad parenting of an actual person seems like more of a problem to me than the discriminatory attitude towards an unborn one. It might be sucky, but the alternative is worse.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-06 11:47 pm (UTC)
nanaya: Sarah Haskins as Rosie The Riveter, from Mother Jones (Default)
From: [personal profile] nanaya
I'm aware this is slightly OT, because obv I made the post a long time before you made this one, and since I'm referencing it so as not to want to restate what I already said at length, I realised it would be a little tricky to cover both bases fairly, so bear with me if you think I'm doing that badly :-)

I think it is still reasonable to say that those abortions are for the sake of the child, and save them from suffering, because they are preventing any child from arriving in the world with the automatic burden of an unwilling or resentful parent. That parent may indeed be being selfish, discriminatory, ill-informed, whatever. I'm not sure it matters from the perspective of considering what is best for the child. Since I regard not-existing as being a neutral thing, I'm not sure I see anything much to balance. If the horrible life the child will be born to is made unpleasant not because of their potential disability but because of an unwilling parent, it doesn't seem to me to matter much from the overall perspective of that potential person's well-being.

Should pro-choice individuals and organisations strive to avoid using language which suggests that disabled people are miserable, that their lives are full of suffering, that they would all be better off not existing? Hell yes. But I don't think they should ignore the potential impact of serious disability either, and the toll it can take on both the disabled person and their families & friends. And if those families decide, for whatever reasons, that the trade-off isn't worth it, then fair enough.

I think you and I are actually not in great disagreement here, and I want to come back to one of the points I made in my post last year. I think using rhetoric about *any* sort of suffering and necessity is part of the problem I described of pro-choicers being put on the back foot by anti-choicers' attempts to claim the moral high ground. All the business of "look at how these people's lives will be ruined by being forced to reproduce" is a response to that, and I think it's both an ideological and a tactical mistake to get backed into that corner. I agree with you that ableist hand-wringing can be a spectacularly bad idea (and bolster the charge that pro-choicers don't care about life/compassion/the well-being of children/whatevs), but I regard it as only being part of a larger problem, one which is at least in part resolved by drawing a line in the sand, sticking up that "personal autonomy is the first and last point of reference" flag, and refusing to be drawn across it.

Does that clarify at all?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-08 04:04 am (UTC)
leora: a statue of a golden snake swallowing its own tail. (ouroboros)
From: [personal profile] leora
Ah yes... I mainly stay away from this issue because it gets so tricky. Some things that seem like such horrible tragedies to some people really don't seem like very big deals to me anymore. Can't walk... umm, okay, so what? How important is walking anyway? Oh sure, it's better to be able to walk than to not be able to, I absolutely agree, but it's not exactly vital for life or even for quality of life. You're certainly more likely to feel you have a good life as a cripple than as someone suffering from depression, but people don't tend to abort babies because they find out that depression runs in their family and their child is at risk (admittedly, we don't have a test for if your kid is going to become severely depressed). And hey, I like a lot of people with severe depression.

I would abort for certain issues. Tay Sachs is the big one for me. If I knew my child was going to be born with it, I'd abort. Then there are the tricky cases, the grey areas... I'm not sure what I'd do. But I do believe that once a baby is born it should be treated like a human and considered human even if it is severely ill or disabled.

Several people in the disability communities have spina bifida. It seems fairly variable in effect and people with it still seem to be able to live meaningful lives. Sure, it's better to not have it than to have it, but it's not the end of the world, at least, not for everyone with it.

Mainly though, I just feel that women should be able to choose to abort a pregnancy for any reason. It worries me that some pregnancies will be aborted for stupid reasons. And it worries me that as more children with certain disabilities such as Down Syndrome are prevented life will become harder for those who are born with it, because society becomes less willing to help. It worries me whenever I feel that someone will be pushed into aborting. I am strongly against anyone being pressured to abort. I'm pro-choice; choice is critical. And I have heard too many stories of people with disabilities being expected to abort pregnancies (regardless of the status of the potential child). I don't want that. But I also don't want people to lose their right to abort. Nor do I really want children being born to parents who do not want them. I think that's bad for everyone.

But I'd much rather the emphasis be on the right to abort before birth than on trying to take away the humanity of anyone after birth. But then, most people won't share my views and so my reasons for being okay with abortion won't be convincing on their own. And it's just so much easier to say, well, we're aborting people you would have been uncomfortable around anyway. They're not people like ~you~.

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