Choose You This Day… image

Choose You This Day…

If you're in the UK tomorrow night, you'll be able to watch a documentary by the actress Sally Phillips asking whether we really want a world without Downs Syndrome.

She raises the question because a new, non-invasive, procedure has been developed that can predict with 99% accuracy the chances of whether a foetus will be born with the condition or not. Phillips, who has a son with Downs Syndrome, fears that we are “sleepwalking into a world where we could eliminate Down’s syndrome”1 (which is, of course, a polite way of saying ‘eliminate the people conceived with Downs syndrome’).

In an interview with The Guardian, Sally notes that she is often asked “Didn’t you know?” when people see her son, “the implication being that if she had known, surely she would have terminated the pregnancy.”2 Freedom of choice, yet again, is seen to mean the freedom to make the culturally-approved choice.

In a follow-up article in The Observer, Jane Fisher, director of an organisation set up to support parents affected by foetal screening and its consequences, raised concerns about the programme. While applauding the desire to show positive images of people who have Downs, she says it introduces “an extra layer of difficulty for couples and families who might be making the decision now about whether to end their pregnancy.” And worse, “It risks offering the suggestion to those who have [decided to end a pregnancy] that they have made the wrong decision.”

Of course it does. This is precisely the kind of tyrannous behaviour the great god ‘Choice’ engages in.

It doesn’t take Sally Phillips to make parents who have chosen to abort their child - for whatever reason - worry that they may have made the wrong decision. Anyone who tries to tell you abortions come without these terrifying questions either before or after is, quite frankly, probably trying to sell you one.

For any person not endowed with omniscience, it will be impossible ever to know whether any choice you make is the right one or not. (Aside: in a world with no absolutes, is there any such thing as the ‘right’ choice anyway?) The nocturnal ‘what ifs’ will always come creeping out of the undergrowth, whispering their unanswerable questions from dusk till dawn. But that’s what you sign up for when you pledge allegiance to that master. You get the freedom to choose, but you also get the freedom to live with the doubts and the recriminations and the fear. Your only hope is to make the most informed choice you can, then face the consequences.

So why do the advocates of choice so often seek to quash the voices of information? The charitable explanation is that it’s because their elephants are galloping so determinedly through the bushes that the riders haven’t a hope of trying to alter their course. Or could it be that we are not as free as we like to think, but are all serving some kind of god with some kind of plan for humanity?

If so, it might be just as well to make an informed choice about that, too…

Picture credit:  Sally Phillips in a scene from the documentary, ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’ Photograph: Brian J Ritchie


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