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The Paralympics has exposed Britain’s Janus-faced attitude to the disabled

We applaud competitors while welcoming new ways to ‘eradicate’ Down’s syndrome sufferers

By on Friday, 7 September 2012

The final of last night's men's T44 100m at the Paralympic Games (PA)

The final of last night's men's T44 100m at the Paralympic Games (PA)

The hugely successful Paralympic Games come to a close this Sunday. In a strongly worded message to draw attention to the ambivalence of our attitude to the disabled, James Parker, Catholic coordinator for the Games, has spoken out against Great Britain’s “discriminatory and outdated abortion laws”. He relates that many Paralympians he has talked to are unaware that had they been conceived today in this country they would most likely be aborted. Doubtless they would be aghast to think that their lives, so full of triumphal achievement against great odds, might have been brutally ended before they had properly begun.

Parker described the Paralympic Village, filled with the best modern equipment that these athletes require, as a “sacred place” where there is “a vibrant, tangible passion for life”. You can get an idea of its special atmosphere when Parker goes on to explain that every participator, sensitive towards each other’s difficulties, “is in the service of their neighbour”. Indeed, it sounds the kind of Christian community that we all aspire to build. It reminds us that people with a disability have a unique and crucial witness to make to our Darwinian-oriented society, with its implicit pull towards the survival of the fittest.

Parker emphasised that “what is astounding is that Britain is enabling the eyes of the world to be opened to the giftedness and potential of those with disabilities through its hosting of the Paralympic Games. However, its own laws vehemently and shockingly discriminate against any new life in the womb that might possibly be affected by a physical handicap, genetic problems or a mental defect.”

In a recent blog post Madeleine Teahan, like James Parker, called in question the hypocrisy of a country which has fallen over itself to highlight the splendid efforts of the competitors this last fortnight, yet at the same time is publicly silent about its laws that allow abortion up to birth for babies with defects. She concluded: “Before we, the benevolent Paralympic hosts, congratulate ourselves on being the midwives of diversity, let’s pause … to ponder if support for our Paralympians rings hollow.”

I found striking evidence of this Janus-faced “benevolence” in an article in the Telegraph earlier this week. The headline: “Test that could end Down’s syndrome” and the subtitle: “Blood check is 99 per cent accurate, could save 300 babies a year and should be available on NHS within five years”. My instant (naive) response was to think that a breakthrough had been made in ending this chromosomal disorder. What else could the headline possibly mean? Then I read the small print. I was completely mistaken. Indeed, I had to read the small print a few times to grasp its full implications.

What the report by Stephen Adams, the Telegraph medical correspondent, did not say was that a new blood test for pregnant women, which would “pick up more cases of Down’s” than the current process, would certainly have “the potential to all but eradicate Down’s syndrome” – by simply by killing off more affected babies more efficiently than in the past by detecting the condition earlier. The figure of 300 “saved” babies concerns those now unhappily miscarried when the current tests are carried out.

If the headline had been of a test that could “end” malaria or polio it would be unthinkable to imagine it meant wiping out persons affected by these diseases. Those who composed the Telegraph headline obviously had no idea of the savage and Swiftian irony behind it.

  • Meena

    Ms Phillips writes: “It reminds us that people with a disability have a unique and crucial witness to make to our Darwinian-oriented society, with its implicit pull towards the survival of the fittest.”

    Yes indeed they do. And I share several of your thoughts.
    They can be shared too by many atheists, including even the famously “strident” Dawkins who is also an evolutionary (Darwinian) biologist.

    Dawkins’ interview with Frank Miele on the “Scepsis” website:  

    ‘In my opinion, a society run along “evolutionary” lines would not be a very nice society in which to live. But further, there’s no logical reason why we should try to derive our normative standards from evolution. It’s perfectly consistent to say this is the way it is–natural selection is out there and it is a very unpleasant process. Nature is red in tooth and claw. But I don’t want to live in that kind of a world. I want to change the world in which I live in such a way that natural selection no longer applies.’ 

    From my perspective it seems the case that God (if he exists) made this “red in tooth and claw” world and man is increasingly attaining the ability to change it for the better.

  • Parasum

     Maybe not so much “Janus-faced”, as not joining the dots. Britain is a fiction, standing for the reality of a nation state of c.60 million different people with diff. ideas.  So the Janus faces may simply be different trends of opinion eld by different groups.

  • Joe R

    Velcome  to Nhatzee Britanny, ve haff vays of making you talk…

  • Alison Davis2

    Excellent comparison by Francis.  I am another who could well have been aborted if conceived when all these “exciting breakthroughs” (ie more accute pre-natal tests) were available.  I have spina bifida & upwards of 80% of unborn children with my disability are aborted.  The Telegraph article said it all about our society’s “Janus-faced” attitude in an attempt to “wipe out” Down’s syndrome by killing those who have it.  

  • maxmarley

    And the disabled must include those able-bodied too blind and deaf to comprehend where abortion and contraception are taking this country. 
    England [anglo-saxons] appears to have a fertility rate less than 1.9. 
    Many other western European countries have this problem.Historically no culture has ever reversed a 1.9 fertility rate. A rate of 1.3 is impossible to reverse.
    A moral disaster will ultimately become a natural disaster.
    Only the Catholic Church seems to have the wisdom to see where the blind and the deaf are taking us demographically.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Another great article. Thank you Francis

  • Meena

    The immigrants more than make this up.

    But seriously fertility rates are determined by government policies (tax, family and child-friendly policies, tax rates, unemployment etc).

    Some immigrants need large families to run their 24/7 and 365 days-a-year businesses:  eg. off-licences, general corner stores, news agents, chemists and mini cabs.

  • Honeybadger

    Spot on, Francis. Spot on.

    Disabled people are the most crucial, essential members of society. They bring out the best in humanity and – unfortunately – the worst. Recently, my local paper reported a sharp rise in attacks on guide dogs and their owners. Selfish,spoilt brat low lifes who haven’t a blank-blank clue about life without sight or the time and money from charity that it takes to train the guide dogs!

    Since the Government allowed press releases to national newspapers about low-lifes who steal Disability Living Allowance, physical and verbal abuse has increased – thus giving the twisted and entirely wrong impression that all people who are claiming this essential benefit are spongers and scroungers.

    Do these misinformed, thick people realise just how flipping tough it is to apply for DLA? I bet it would be far, far easier to write an essay about the workings of a combine harvester in Egyptian heiroglyphics!

    I have thoroughly enjoyed both the Olympics and Paralympic games for sure. What took the gloss off it for me was to see the name of the firm ATOS plastered around the Olympic venues. ATOS is contracted by the UK Government to take as many people OFF DLA with their Stasi-style methods!

    What is so chilling about this country’s attitude towards abortion it is that it rembles the Nazis obsession with a perfect master race and our throwaway, life-is-cheap society. Obama is attempting to take the USA down the same route.

    The Queen might end up with writer’s cramp ascending reams of legislation against disability discrimination. Legislation alone won’t put a lid on it.

    When the last of the political speeches disappear into the smoke and the ticker tape is swept up and recycled and the medals are put into cabinets and frames, I hope attitudes will change for the better…

    But, having said that, why is my heart aching with a soupcon of pessimism?