Tag Archives: eugenics

Autism and Eugenics

As shocked as I was that Emma brought up the topic of eugenics, it also seemed completely “expected” in the sense that Emma has frequently written about similar issues regarding parenting and autism. In many of her previous writings on the subject, Emma has sought to ease the fears of parents after their children are diagnosed with autism. With this conversation, it becomes more clear as to why she feels so highly motivated to show parents that an autistic mind is a wonderful mind and the prospect of having an autistic child could just as easily be looked upon as a “blessing” rather than a “curse.”

It is literally a matter of life and death.

I have no doubt whatsoever that tests will be created that can determine (with at least a reasonable amount of certainty) whether an embryo will develop autistic (or autistic-like) neurology. Having just returned from a weeklong conference on neurology and consciousness studies, where I listened to over 100 lectures by the top scientists in the field, I also have no doubt whatsoever that such a test will likely be developed within the next five years. The technological advances in this area are occurring at such an exponentially swift rate that it would be ten times more shocking if the “autism test” were NOT developed.

I have equal certainty that once a test like this is developed (particularly if it is a non-invasive blood test, which is also highly likely) that the results will be horrifyingly similar to what has occurred when fetuses test positive for Down Syndrome (DS) — a 90% abortion rate.

If you’ve ever spent a decent amount of time with a person with Down Syndrome, and you’re a reasonably intelligent, kind and compassionate person, you fully understand what a horrific disaster this is. When the “autism-test” becomes available–and it will–an equal disaster will likely occur, if we don’t effectively get the word out that autism is not to be feared, but should instead be embraced.

Here is a good article I just found on the topic and points the way to a more organized manner to produce and publicize an awareness campaign to counter the eugenics tragedy, in the absence of a more positive attitude toward autism and autistic people.

Very unfortunately, we live in an increasingly perfectionist society, particularly in America. Any American woman knows how difficult life became for her as a little girl, once she became aware of what society deemed: “the ideal woman.” Now little boys have to push the same boulder up the same hill, trying to get a stud-muffin six-pack hot-bod. Just look at the cover of any magazine that features any human being that is not part of a straight-news story.

It’s hard to be optimistic about the outcome regarding eugenics. People, being people, want the “best for their children.” And the “best” that’s being shoved down people’s throats is an impossible ideal. So wanting the “best for their children” often translates into wanting the “best children.” Depending on your cultural affiliation, the “best children” might mean tall, slim, blond hair and blue eyes. Or it might be highly intelligent, hard-working, caring, athletic, wealthy, powerful, dominant, sexy, persuasive, cunning or ruthless.

Perhaps all those traits will become “genetically selectable.” Will parents do it? Absolutely. How many? Lots. Will laws be imposed to stop them? Perhaps. Will those laws be broken? Absolutely. The big questions aren’t: “if” or “should you?” They are: “when” and “how much?” And with Autism Speaks sucking up 80% of the public discourse bandwidth, the generally accepted definition of “best children” continues to be: “children who are not-autistic.”

It’s hard to be optimistic about anything anymore. Like whether your children will ever see a living coral reef. But if you care, you have to try, and we really have to try very hard, and very quickly if there is any chance at all of turning the tide.

Emma’s Hope Book began as a search for “hope” in “helping” Emma to be a less-autistic person. It’s shameful for me to write that, but it’s the truth. Thanks to Ariane’s tireless quest to learn more about autism, she discovered the blogs of autistic people and suddenly our perspective shifted completely. Now Emma’s Hope Book is about hope with a capital H, not in air-quotes. It’s about the Hope of understanding and acceptance and respect and basic human rights. It’s about the Hope of reaching parents with children who are newly diagnosed with the “disease” or “disorder” of autism and suggesting an alternative perspective, so they may embrace and treasure the gift they’ve been given–and prevent the countless trauma-inflicting mistakes we made while we listened to the “Cure Autism Now!’ crew. It’s about the Hope of reaching the parents of autistic children who have already made many of the mistakes we’ve made and show them the power and beauty and wonder and joy of true acceptance–of learning that it is never too late to change–of learning that every day and every moment of every day counts.

Most importantly, Emma’s Hope Book is about the Hope of changing the world one person at a time through the kindness, compassion, joy, creativity, intelligence, insight and wisdom of Emma and all the autistic people like her (and unlike her) who share their thoughts, feelings, fears and hope with anyone who is willing to open their minds and listen:

“Know our understanding of what’s ideal constantly changes. Ideally one understands: to want a child is a desire without promise for sameness.” — Emma Zurcher-Long

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Having THE Conversation & Parenting

Emma not only gave me permission to write about this, but asked that I “put it on the blog.”  I posted a small portion of this conversation on Emma’s Hope Book Facebook Page yesterday.

Trigger warning:  eugenics, abortion

Yesterday morning I saw an article in National Geographic about the Seine and Paris that I thought Emma might enjoy reading, particularly since her grandfather, my father, was born and raised in Paris.  But as with any topic I choose I asked Emma if it was something she was interested in.

Ever the diplomat, Emma wrote, “I do want to talk about the Seine, just not now.”

“Okay,” I said, “what would you like to talk about instead?”

“I want to have the conversation about eugenics,” Emma wrote.

I was astonished.  After I’d recovered from my astonishment I thought of how I continually talk about presuming competence and yet am so often surprised by my daughter’s words.  I’ve come to the conclusion that one does not preclude the other.  I can presume competence and still be surprised by the things she knows and says.  In fact, if I asked a group of twelve-year olds to talk to me about eugenics, I’m guessing there would be several who would not be familiar with the word, let alone able to spell it correctly.

“What specifically are you wanting to say or know?” I asked.

Emma wrote, “What do you believe is right?”

I said, “I don’t believe eugenics is ever a good idea, because it is a desire to extinguish those believed to be lesser beings.  I think all human beings are valuable and should be treated with respect and equally.”  As I spoke I held the keyboard for her to respond if she wanted to.

Emma wrote, “I believe human life is sacred and people treat those who they think are different far worse than people who are like them.”

“Yes, I think you’re right,” I said.  “Do you worry about eugenics?”

“Yes,” Emma wrote, “because parents seem so upset when they find out their kid is autistic.  I worry that people like me will end up being aborted.”

Eugenics and abortion…  Now two topics I was completely unprepared to talk about.  So we discussed both.  I talked to Emma about prenatal testing and how such a test has not been made yet.  I explained that autism has not been found in one particular gene, but that researchers are finding whole clusters of genes suggesting that it will be very difficult to isolate one or even a group of genes that may or may not be related to autism.  We discussed abortion and how and why it is a complicated topic.  And we talked about the difference between abortion and eugenics and how the two can overlap, but that they are also not necessarily related.

As with any complex issue, this is where parenting can get tricky.  I asked myself, how much information is too much?  I do not want to be overly protective and try to shield either of my children from difficult topics, nor do I want to “feed” my children my opinions.  Instead I want them to have enough information so they can form their own opinions, even if they develop opinions I do not agree with.  I’d rather disagree and talk about that than have them believe something without thinking about it.

I told Emma that her concerns were one of the reasons I feel so compelled to continue writing and why I hope she will also continue to write so that “more people get to know someone like me.”  We discussed how people’s perceptions about autism and how the things we see and are told, all that inaccurate information, can cause people to do things they would not do if they were given a more balanced and informed view.

Emma then wrote, “…I will write about this more so other parents open their hearts and learn…”

Now I realize I am bringing up difficult and complex topics.  Topics many people have strong opinions about.  I’m actually not interested in getting into an ideological argument about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, however I am interested in discussing the ramifications of the current and ongoing conversation regarding autism.

Eugenics was not a topic I would have ever thought to bring up with my daughter.  Not only was it not something I’d thought to discuss, it is a word I did not assume she knew.  But, just as when she wrote to Soma a few months back that she had seen the Grammy’s, unbeknownst to me, my daughter hears everything that is said around her.   Emma wrote that she saw the Grammy’s while waiting in the airport.  I hadn’t even noticed they were being shown because I don’t pay attention to the television screens when we are in an airport, so busy am I with getting through security and finding our gate.

I am so grateful Emma is able to write about these things so that we can discuss her concerns.  How many people who are Autistic worry about being harmed or even killed because of their neurology?  How many are able to voice their concerns?  How many are worrying in silence?

Emma - April 2014

Emma – April 2014