There's a chilling discrepancy between our attitudes towards Paralympians and disabled babies
I attended a 21st birthday party last month where the birthday girl sat on her mum’s knee because she will never walk. Compared with the standard birthday girl experience, involving vodka, tears and vomit, it was the happiest 21st I have experienced so far.
Commentators this week have made grave pronouncements about the rights of the disabled, despite the celebratory atmosphere engulfing London as it hosts the 2012 Paralympics. Many have been swift to suggest that the Government’s support for Paralympians reeks of hypocrisy following cuts to disabled living allowances. One commentator suggested that the Prime Minister David Cameron should be met with cries of “shame” and another called for an “end to this disabled apartheid”. They are very keen to highlight the Government’s gushing duplicity. Yet when listing the forms of discrimination which the disabled face, aren’t they forgetting the most obvious?
Imagine this scenario. Tomorrow, a pregnant woman will be told, following a scan, that her child will be born without a right arm. What will the doctor advise? And how many cheerleaders for the Paralympics would agree that aborting the baby would be an act of kindness?
Let’s say that the doctor’s next patient is an excited expectant mother. The doctor has to tell her that he suspects her baby has a spinal condition and will be unable to walk. Again, what will the doctor recommend?
Natalia Partyka was born without a right hand and forearm. She won her first international table tennis medal at the disabled world championship when she was 10. She has won more than 30 medals since. Steve Brown is Great Britain’s wheelchair rugby captain. Following an accident he broke his neck and trapped his spinal chord and is now paralysed from the chest down.
Both these individuals smash the convenient myth that aborting a disabled child is an act of mercy that cut shorts a miserable, undignified and frustrating life. This specious argument is incessantly advanced to justify Britain’s abortion law, which allows abortion up to birth if the child is “severely disabled” (but in practice covers easily corrected conditions such as cleft palates).
Whatever your view of abortion, if you support equal rights for disabled people pause to consider what sort of process is necessary to abort a child weeks, or even days, before he or she would be born.
According to Abortion Review: “Dilatation and evacuation (D&E) is the surgical procedure of choice. A D&E involves removal of the fetus and placenta through an artificially dilated cervix using a combination of forceps and vacuum aspiration.”
In other words, following the dilation of the woman’s cervix, the baby is removed with forceps piece by piece.
Barbaric procedure aside, who is highlighting the discrimination that disabled people face at the most fundamental level? If a baby is disabled he or she can be aborted up to birth. But if a baby is healthy he or she cannot be aborted after 24 weeks. If the National Health Service introduced a policy whereby disabled children were automatically at the bottom of the list for organ donation or any other life-sustaining treatment there would quite rightly be a national outcry. But you won’t hear a whisper from the noisy egalitarians about the shocking discrimination embedded in Britain’s abortion laws.
Before we, the benevolent Paralympic hosts, congratulate ourselves on being the midwives of diversity, let’s pause to weigh up this chilling discrepancy and ponder if support for our Paralympians rings hollow.