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Sarah Palin, Down’s syndrome, and the race for the White House

Posted in Media, Politics, Termination by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on August 31, 2008

It’s hard to ignore the news that Sarah Palin has been picked by John McCain as his VP candidate running mate in the race for the White House. For those that aren’t aware, Palin is interesting to this blog given that her fifth child, Trig, has Down’s syndrome.

This fact has prompted some disability/Pro-Life advocates to rejoice at the new of her appointment, suggesting that she will push forward rights for people with disabilities in general, and Down’s syndrome in particular, and may even prompt a change in attitudes related to the termination of fetuses with disabilities.

It’s a nice thought, but it is pretty naive. As Blogging Down Syndrome points out, Palin is likely to vote with her more senior running mate. “I don’t know McCain considers himself anti-disability so much as he just doesn’t care. We are not his issue and Gov. Palin is not going to make us his issue.”

Compare the fact that David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party in the UK, has a son with cerebral palsy. You don’t see him going out of his way to pro-disability issues. As he proved recently, he is a pragmatist on that issue. When it comes to legislation, political interests tend to outweigh personal interests.

UPDATE – Also I completely forgot that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has a son with cystic fibrosis, which is a testament to how private he keeps his private life – UPDATE

Maybe Palin is a different politician, time will tell, and she will certainly raise the profile of Down’s syndrome in the US. I can’t help feeling slightly disconcerted about some of the media portrayal of her, and her son, as a symbol of the Pro-Life movement, however.

As previously pointed out on Blogging Down Syndrome there is a tendency in some parts of the media to celebrate her decision to continue with the birth of her son, who she was aware had Down’s syndrome, as proof of her Pro-Life credentials.

“”I have a profoundly disabled child myself, and I am not sure I could make the decision she made to have that child and put her money where her mouth is as a pro-life woman,” a Pro-Choice Republican supporter is apparently quoted as saying by the Washington Times. (I say apparently because I have some experience of journalism and that and the rest of her comments read like a supplied quote to me).

Take this excerpt from Sky News for example: “An evangelical Christian who is pro-gun and pro-life – a stance she backed up by bringing her fifth child to full term despite knowing it would have Down’s syndrome – she has plenty of what stands for good sense in conservative circles.”

To me that sentence says more about the media’s attitude to disability than it does termination – the implication is that it would have been reasonable for Palin to have rejected her principles and have the child aborted, as she knew it had Down’s syndrome, and for not doing so she is to be celebrated.

This column also makes the rather absurd notion that by continuing with her pregnancy Palin made herself a symbol of both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements given that “she exercised her right to have that baby. If that isn’t pro-choice, what is?” Forgive me my ignorance, but if she was being true to her principles then there was no choice to make, was there?

Less prominent Pro-Lifers must be cursing the fact that they gave birth to ‘normal’ children. (In case it is unclear I am being sarcastic here.)

McCain’s choice of Palin also guarantees that abortion is going to be one of the big issues in this election. And it is not going to be pretty. (See RNC mulls Limbaugh abortion Obama jab, and Two Questions for Barack Following Palin Nomination). Unfortunately, at the centre of it all is going to be Palin’s son and there have also already been reports casting doubt on the official story of his birth.

To be clear, I don’t think Palin is reponsible for the media’s portayal of her decision to go ahead and have her son, but I can’t escape the feeling that the media will be using Palin and her son to advance agendas on both sides. I have a feeling this is not going to have a happy ending.


12 Responses

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  1. Santiago said, on August 31, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Palin proves in deeds her love and courage: being a proud mother of five children, and a son with Down syndrome, is a good sign. I do not agree with creationism (I agree that there is a Creator God, a different thing). In any case, I think that I could trust in this woman. Even with a not long political experience.
    Good luck, America!
    Santiago, Granada (Spain)

  2. Rickismon said, on August 31, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    I agree that the media will probably have a field day with this. And look at this idiocy about her daughter having the baby, As if all 7th month pregnancies show!

  3. David V said, on August 31, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Whereas previously, a Down’s child could be born without the prior knowledge of the mother, going forward, a parent with a Down’s child will likely (at least in the developed world) have made a conscious choice to have that child. As prenatal testing for trisomy 21 becomes ubiquitous, Down’s children (and eventually those with other genetic disorders) will increasingly become symbols of faith – a freak show meant to communicate the “family values” of their parents. The children will become public sacrifices made by their parents for their faith. They will be a symbol of religious reverence in the same way as the scarred backs of Catholics who flagellate themselves, or Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire, or Sunni Muslims who mutilate their girl’s genitals or Shiites who bloody their children’s heads with swords.
    Genuine moral virtues – such as integrity, honesty, and productivity are not useful as evidence of religious virtue. To the extent that their practical benefit is visible to everyone, they do not represent the special domain of religion. To demonstrate religious virtue, it is necessary to sacrifice authentic moral values in favor of “religious” values. The particular object of the sacrifice is not important – there is nothing particularly “biblical” about being prolife (the Christian bible just as easily supports the opposite position.) If Christian fundamentalists decided that cutting of one’s hand sufficed as proof of moral virtue, they would be wrong to do so, but not much more so than the numerous other ways that people find to be self-destructive. What is really vicious about fundamentalists in America is that the prey on the most vulnerable –poor pregnant young girls and women, those dying from painful terminal illnesses, the loved ones of brain-dead patients, — and children afflicted with terrible genetic illnesses. One can at least grasp the moral indifference with which a fundamentalist can force a single young mother to abandon her goals and dreams and condemn her and her child to poverty. But what can we say about a parent that chooses a life of suffering upon their child? If we are morally outraged by child rapists, how should we judge a parent who chooses a lifetime of suffering on their own child?

  4. welcometoillinois said, on August 31, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    That is an interesting point of view that raises some valid questions but you have also made not just one but several massive assumptions, not least that people who decide to continue with the pregnancy of a child with Down’s syndrome do so due to their religious beliefs.

    It certainly had nothing to do with my decision https://welcometoillinois.wordpress.com/category/religion-and-the-lack-of-it/ which was based on the moral judgment that Down’s syndrome was not, in and of itself, a reason to terminate the pregnancy, as far as my family was concerned.

    It was without a doubt the most difficult decision I have ever faced in my life. For your sake I hope you never have to choose whether or not to terminate the life of your unborn child but perhaps if you do you will realize how outrageous your comparison of a parent that continues with the pregnancy of a disabled child with a child rapist is. That was probably the intention, but it totally belittles your argument.

  5. Kristina Roper said, on September 2, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    As a mother of a 17-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome, I have some experience in what it takes to raise a child with special needs. As an atheist, who also agrees that having an in utero diagnosis of Trisomy-21 is not a good reason to terminate a pregnancy, I do not see my son as a gift from a god, but rather as a child I love and want, and would chose again in a heart beat.

    What I cannot fathom is how Governor Palin can take on the Vice Presidency, with a strong possibility of eventually assuming the presidency itself, at a time that is critical to the health and welfare of her son? Being a woman in the 21st century in America means we do have choices as to how we want to live our lives, but let’s be clear: We bare the responsibility of our choices. I have learned that having a child with DS means taking nothing for granted. The parents must act as strong advocates for their child, both with medical and education professionals, and this takes time and dedication. Although we have progressed so far in the past 25 years, there is still so much ignorance and benign neglect when it comes to the needs of DS children and young adults in our educational system.

    Finally, I would also like to point out the all the benefits and advantages my son and I gained from living in a liberal county and state, everything from an Infant Stimulation Program to Head Start, are public services that Republicans like Senator McCain and Governor Palin would like to purge from the federal government.

    Like Governor Palin, I took my child to work with me soon after his birth. I worked for a company that welcomed my child and supported my decision. But there were career advancements that I declined because my son needed both his mother and father on a regular basis. Governor Palin stated in a July 31 interview that she didn’t really know what the VP of the US does. Maybe someone should tell her so she can make an informed decision as to just who she wants to be.

  6. Anissa said, on September 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Hmm..I know that women don’t have abortions and continue to exist without guilt about having terminated their child.

    But I cannot imagine the guilt a woman would feel after terminating a child because that child was neurologically atypical. I would think the guilt would be magnified by 1000.

    While I respect the pro life decision to bear a child with a neuro disorder, I do not respect Sarah Palin or John McCain as leaders of this country, Nor do I feel they better capable of leading this country out of war and into a better relationship with the rest of the world. I don’t trust their diplomatic skills and lack thereof.

  7. […] Palin effect – media begins to take DS seriously While I remain concerned about the overall media portrayal of Sarah Palin and her decision to continue with the birth of her […]

  8. […] presidential ticket is the real advocate for disability? Having commented on Sarah Palin’s nomination as the Republican VP candidate and the subsequent increase in the […]

  9. […] all started with this comment on my post about Sarah Palin’s selection as VP candidate, which led me to this post on […]

  10. […] I wrote back in August that “I can’t help feeling slightly disconcerted about some of the media […]

  11. […] » I wrote about Sarah Palin a few times during the US presidential election last year, questioning the reporting of her decision to go ahead with the pregnancy of Trig, while also noting the […]

  12. Max Osol said, on February 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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