I once spent the day in Denmark. Well, I guess it was two days, one day coming and one day going. I was trying to get from Helsinki to Lausanne, Switzerland and I had to take a bunch of boats and trains. It was a long time ago, so excuse the sketchy details. The only thing that I really remember is being pretty well broke by the time I got to Switzerland. I ate a lot of leftover bread on that trip. Ah, youth!
Anyway, Denmark has been on my mind, lately. Even before the news of the unfortunate giraffe, Marius, reached me, I had been thinking about what kind of society they had there. Sure, it is a happy society (see this survey) and maybe that is part of what scares me about it. As soon as I heard about Marius I (for now it appears there is a Marius II; note to self: Don't be a giraffe named Marius in Denmark), my mind went to thoughts of the Down syndrome population in that country. In Denmark, like most Western countries, Down syndrome births are dwindling (check this out).
I don't want to get into the whole subject with much depth here, mostly because I don't want this post to go on for days. Suffice it to say that I have a problem with people thinking that this is a great thing. It really bothers me that some people think it's a great thing; mostly, because I have a son and friends and other people I care about that have Down syndrome and I think a world without them would be decidedly more...sad.
So, I just kind of wonder what kind of great society promotes the killing off of those who are seen as unneeded or unwanted or less-than?
What does it say, when a zoo helps to create, names, raises and then decides to kill a young giraffe...oh, and cut it up in front of cameras for the kids to watch. Good times! But, seriously, what does this say about what life means to these people? Life is good only if it directly benefits (read: makes money for) others? Life is only good if you are born the right height/weight/sex/color/creed/national origin/sexual orientation/with the right number of chromosomes?
What did this giraffe do to deserve to be fed to the lions he shared the zoo with?
I've read some of the comments about the subject and many say things along the lines of "giraffes are lions natural prey, anyway" and "you would just have to kill a cow instead, so what is the difference?". I can kind of see where they are coming from. After all, a cow's life is as important to that cow as Marius' life is/was to him; but there is something about breeding this animal, wanting him until he was deemed unnecessary, then killing him that is deeply disturbing. And it reminds me of the free, prenatal screening for T-21 that Denmark offers. And it feels icky. And I get that a giraffe is not a person. It still feels icky.
If you don't love a person with Down syndrome, maybe you don't understand what I am saying. Maybe you think I am crazy. Maybe YOU think it's a great thing to eliminate Down syndrome and with it, part of what makes my kid MY KID. I would ask you to keep an open mind, though and hear me out to the end.
Do you know someone with Autism (prenatal test)? Do you know someone who is gay? Because guess what? With all the genome testing that is going on, prenatal tests are coming for those conditions as well, all in the name of "advancing human health". What does it mean for us as human beings to choose to eliminate traits that are a natural part of the human condition; not diseases, not conditions incompatible with life, but traits that could be seen as less than desirable?
And even if diseases like cancer and heart disease and schizophrenia could be diagnosed before birth, what would we do about it? Since just about everyone will get one or the other at some point in their lives, COULD we do anything about it? What if you found out at age twenty that sometime before you turned fifty you would have a massive heart attack? It's quite likely, actually; much more likely than being born with Trisomy 21. Would you want to be shot in the head to spare you the misery? Or would you want to fight for your life?
Human beings are beautiful because of their differences from one another. One race, hair color, orientation or neurology is not necessarily better than another. Should we, who have apparently "won" the neurological lottery, have control over the fate of those who haven't? And if so, are we conducting our own, decidedly less messy, though no less troubling, form of Aktion T-4?
I worry about where we are headed. I worry that we don't learn our history lessons. I worry that in our quest to become "better", we will wind up bereft.