A new medical breakthrough has hit the headlines, but not everyone is celebrating. LabCorp has just received a patent on a new method for diagnosing autism — and the fact that it can be used prenatally has a lot of people alarmed that just as with other prenatal diagnoses, this test could lead to the deaths of children with autism through abortion.
The method was invented by David Michael Margulies and Mark Firman Bear, and uses tissue or a body sample from the person, and then looks for sequences in their genetic code, some of which may indicate “the presence or an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.” It is said to be able to test for all five autism spectrum disorders — autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett’s disorder, and nonspecific pervasive developmental disorders — and most worryingly, can be used on preborn children, presumably through an amniocentesis. Currently, an autism diagnosis is made through mostly behavioral observation.
“The push for abortion will be staggering”
Far from embracing the news, many in the autism community seem to fear what this might mean for children like theirs. Lauren Pope’s son Holden is autistic, and she spoke fiercely about the news:
This has been something we all knew was coming, but now that it’s here it could mean the absolute end to any future autistic individuals. Those remaining will face increased discrimination and their parents will be ostracized for “knowingly” “causing suffering.”
The public perception of autism is so intensely negative that the push for abortion will be staggering within the medical community and socially.
Let me be clear about something right now. Autism is a human variance. It is not a disease. There have been autistic humans for all time. Some of these people are the people who have lifted society through their single minded love for science or art or literature.
The social impairments between autistics and the neurotypical world go both ways, with average NT making not even the slightest effort to understand the autistic. Autistic people are already very likely to die by suicide. Why? Because they are constantly told that their life is burdensome and they do not fit in.
So yes, while a test itself may be morally neutral, I can not take this as academic. Real people will die. Real people will suffer. And it will all be cheered as progress.
In some instances, prenatal testing can, of course, be beneficial; with Down syndrome, for example, knowing in advance can have medical benefits. But is that the case for autistic preborn babies? According to Pope, no. “There are some conditions that can be comorbid with autism that require medical care, but those comorbidities are already caught without needing to know about the autism,” she explained.
“We all know what the likely outcome will be”
Deanna Fisher, whose two sons also are autistic, likewise wrote about her fears that this will lead to abortion. “Can we all be honest, and acknowledge that when they say ‘fetal genetic testing,’ we all know what the likely outcome will be the second a nervous parent is given the results of a genetic test that says ‘your child has an increased risk of developing autism’?” she asked. “Are we looking to ‘eliminate’ autism the same way that Iceland has ‘eliminated’ Down Syndrome?”
She concluded, “Science should be used as a tool, not a blunt instrument to bludgeon and shame parents into killing what popular culture deems ‘imperfect’. Life is not perfect, or fair, or easy. And yet it is the one thing that we all yearn for. We ALL want to live. Don’t let anything – not this genetic test, not the twisted moral preening of one writer, not the bigotry of Iceland – convince you otherwise.”
Yet when it comes to prenatal diagnoses of disabilities, too often people argue that abortion is the “kinder” option, because they presume that a life lived with a disability is not worth living. They don’t often take the time to consult with the people actually living with that disability, of course, to see if they actually feel that death is preferable to their life before going through with the abortion. And this is why so many people in the autism and disability communities reacted with horror, and not jubilation, to this news.
“Lays the groundwork for eugenics”
Many of them took to social media to express their concerns and fears over the potential for a prenatal diagnosis:
I tweeted about this yesterday, but to be very clear, this kind of testing (it’s certainly not a “diagnosis”) lays the groundwork for eugenics, and that’s horrifying – and already going on with Down syndrome. https://t.co/sBgazigZy4
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) January 8, 2018
My heart weeps for this. Currently, 67% of babies with chromosome abnormalities (likely Down Syndrome) are aborted in the U.S. This will likely not turn out to be much different. My nephew is autistic and the world is a better place because he is in it. https://t.co/j8GJCxZv7V
— Stephanie Nelson (@stephanienels) January 8, 2018
As the dad of one on the spectrum, this makes me nervous too. Children with autism are to be welcomed with love, not targeted for death. https://t.co/nxa96y5swC
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) January 8, 2018
Legalized abortion + early detection in fetus for disabilities = Annihilation of our most precious and defenseless babies. Ask Denmarkhttps://t.co/j8tqZ5kFLD
— James Cook (@tied4second) January 9, 2018
And what will be done with this technology as parents receive a diagnosis of autism for their unborn offspring? I pray and hope keep them, raise them, love them — like all children deserve. https://t.co/gNJkY8IR5p
— Rick Hogaboam (@rickhogaboam) January 9, 2018
We can’t say for sure at this point what the result of this testing will be. But we only need look to the astronomically high abortion rate of babies with Down syndrome to get a glimpse of what will happen. And with autism, it will likely be far worse, as society views it far more negatively than other disabilities. For example, the leading and most well-known autism advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, portrays autism as a horrific, terrible disease that needs a cure so that autistic people can be eradicated from the planet. This attitude has caused autistic self-advocates to boycott the organization, and speak out about its harmful message. (The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a good alternative.)
When most people view autism as a horrible disease that ruins people’s lives, is there really any question as to what will happen if it can be diagnosed prenatally?