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    A paper in The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell-free DNA Analysis for Noninvasive Examination of Trisomy, reports on the effectiveness of a new proprietary method to screen for Trisomy 21, which is the cause of 90% of cases where individuals exhibit Down Syndrome. This issue is well known at this point. There are many...
  • jtgw says: • Website
    @Tarkmargi
    I note that you give no particular empirical reason for following your preferred set of axioms. Based on this and prior experience, I'm left to conclude that mere acculturation since childhood has left you so attached to the beliefs that were taught to you that you care not to wonder and wander beyond. Much the same is true of practically all traditional religions.

    Nonetheless, I agree that further discussion is not worthwhile for both of us. I wish you well and thank you for your time and decorum.

    I’m sorry but I really feel I have to respond to your ad hominem. I was not raised Orthodox and I was an atheist for several years. And I don’t believe that you can derive morals through inductive, empirical inquiry; that’s what I meant when I cited Hume on the impossibility of logically deriving ought-statements from is-statements. That’s one reason I abandoned atheism: as far as I can see, moral axioms cannot be derived by reason or observation alone.

    I think this is an interesting conversation but we’d best take it off this comments thread. I’ve linked to my Google+ account if you want to get in touch.

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  • @jtgw
    I'm an Orthodox Christian and base my morals in the traditional teachings of my church. I don't see this as any less rational than your Darwinism-based morality. I don't believe that maximizing the fitness of my offspring/race/species is the ultimate purpose of my life, so your insistence that morality conform to evolutionary needs falls flat. It doesn't sound like we can do more than agree to disagree on this subject.

    I note that you give no particular empirical reason for following your preferred set of axioms. Based on this and prior experience, I’m left to conclude that mere acculturation since childhood has left you so attached to the beliefs that were taught to you that you care not to wonder and wander beyond. Much the same is true of practically all traditional religions.

    Nonetheless, I agree that further discussion is not worthwhile for both of us. I wish you well and thank you for your time and decorum.

    Read More
    • Replies: @jtgw
    I'm sorry but I really feel I have to respond to your ad hominem. I was not raised Orthodox and I was an atheist for several years. And I don't believe that you can derive morals through inductive, empirical inquiry; that's what I meant when I cited Hume on the impossibility of logically deriving ought-statements from is-statements. That's one reason I abandoned atheism: as far as I can see, moral axioms cannot be derived by reason or observation alone.

    I think this is an interesting conversation but we'd best take it off this comments thread. I've linked to my Google+ account if you want to get in touch.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Tarkmargi
    I only follow emotions/traditional norms when they make evolutionary sense, given the clear correlation between emotions/morality and evolutionary purposes; and the fact these emotions/moral norms can become obsolete with rapid social changes.

    Can I request you to elaborate on what logical basis you use to determine what is moral?

    I’m an Orthodox Christian and base my morals in the traditional teachings of my church. I don’t see this as any less rational than your Darwinism-based morality. I don’t believe that maximizing the fitness of my offspring/race/species is the ultimate purpose of my life, so your insistence that morality conform to evolutionary needs falls flat. It doesn’t sound like we can do more than agree to disagree on this subject.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Tarkmargi
    I note that you give no particular empirical reason for following your preferred set of axioms. Based on this and prior experience, I'm left to conclude that mere acculturation since childhood has left you so attached to the beliefs that were taught to you that you care not to wonder and wander beyond. Much the same is true of practically all traditional religions.

    Nonetheless, I agree that further discussion is not worthwhile for both of us. I wish you well and thank you for your time and decorum.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @jtgw
    If you're disregarding your natural empathy, then you're not relying on your emotions.

    Anyway, you can't logically get from is to ought, as Hume demonstrated a long time ago. Your Social Darwinism just takes as axiomatic that what is evolutionarily ideal is also what is moral. I don't accept that axiom.

    I only follow emotions/traditional norms when they make evolutionary sense, given the clear correlation between emotions/morality and evolutionary purposes; and the fact these emotions/moral norms can become obsolete with rapid social changes.

    Can I request you to elaborate on what logical basis you use to determine what is moral?

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    • Replies: @jtgw
    I'm an Orthodox Christian and base my morals in the traditional teachings of my church. I don't see this as any less rational than your Darwinism-based morality. I don't believe that maximizing the fitness of my offspring/race/species is the ultimate purpose of my life, so your insistence that morality conform to evolutionary needs falls flat. It doesn't sound like we can do more than agree to disagree on this subject.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Tarkmargi
    I believe you misunderstand. As I mentioned above, contrary to what you seem to believe, I'm actually a strong opponent of drifting along with emotional impulses to reach decisions. Hence, as I pointed out earlier, I oppose animal rights and support parents' rights to euthanize irremediably severely genetically diseased offspring. These decisions run against my natural empathy, but I disregard that instinct in favor of a more rational long term evolution based decision process because, as I mention above, morality is best understood as a system evolved to further evolutionary aims.

    In cases where traditional moral norms or instincts become counterproductive due to rapid social change, I would disregard them in favor of a more clear headed evolution friendly decision.

    While it is true that there is a variation in in-group/out-group application of prohibitions against murder etc, the best explanation seems to be the variable evolutionary histories behind the different groups. It seems that those populations which have a long history of socialization and experience of centralized states have much more expansive prohibitions against murder irrespective of whether they are Christians or not (just ask the secular Eurpoeans or secular humanists of Amnesty or Human rights watch), whereas populations that are less socialized are more Hobbesian about this.

    It is worth mentioning that Christian conquistadors used Christian justifications to massacre the natives, among numerous examples of Christian disregard for out-group suffering.

    Given the empirically unsupported mythology in which various religions, including Christianity, are embedded and the widely divergent interpretations they enable, they are unreliable moral compasses, in my view, as are hardwired instincts.

    Hence my emphasis of rational consideration of evolutionary purposes, to fulfill which, it seems to me, traditional religions or instincts have evolved. Both these may however, end up on occasion becoming obsolete, so only a rational process is absolutely reliable.

    If you’re disregarding your natural empathy, then you’re not relying on your emotions.

    Anyway, you can’t logically get from is to ought, as Hume demonstrated a long time ago. Your Social Darwinism just takes as axiomatic that what is evolutionarily ideal is also what is moral. I don’t accept that axiom.

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    • Replies: @Tarkmargi
    I only follow emotions/traditional norms when they make evolutionary sense, given the clear correlation between emotions/morality and evolutionary purposes; and the fact these emotions/moral norms can become obsolete with rapid social changes.

    Can I request you to elaborate on what logical basis you use to determine what is moral?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @jtgw
    Prohibitions against theft, murder and dishonesty are not universal. Read Peter Frost's columns here.

    However, I believe that theft, murder and dishonesty are universally immoral, despite the fact that not all cultures prohibit them absolutely in the way modern Western culture (mostly) does. More often, cultures treat in-groups and out-groups, or kin and non-kin, differently: you may be free to kill strangers, but not members of your family, for instance. Your notion that all humans have the same evolved instinct to avoid murder is parochial and false. But I believe your moral intuitions in this instance happen to be correct. It just goes to show that what's moral and what our instincts tell us to do are not necessarily the same (which isn't news to Christians, at any rate).

    I believe you misunderstand. As I mentioned above, contrary to what you seem to believe, I’m actually a strong opponent of drifting along with emotional impulses to reach decisions. Hence, as I pointed out earlier, I oppose animal rights and support parents’ rights to euthanize irremediably severely genetically diseased offspring. These decisions run against my natural empathy, but I disregard that instinct in favor of a more rational long term evolution based decision process because, as I mention above, morality is best understood as a system evolved to further evolutionary aims.

    In cases where traditional moral norms or instincts become counterproductive due to rapid social change, I would disregard them in favor of a more clear headed evolution friendly decision.

    While it is true that there is a variation in in-group/out-group application of prohibitions against murder etc, the best explanation seems to be the variable evolutionary histories behind the different groups. It seems that those populations which have a long history of socialization and experience of centralized states have much more expansive prohibitions against murder irrespective of whether they are Christians or not (just ask the secular Eurpoeans or secular humanists of Amnesty or Human rights watch), whereas populations that are less socialized are more Hobbesian about this.

    It is worth mentioning that Christian conquistadors used Christian justifications to massacre the natives, among numerous examples of Christian disregard for out-group suffering.

    Given the empirically unsupported mythology in which various religions, including Christianity, are embedded and the widely divergent interpretations they enable, they are unreliable moral compasses, in my view, as are hardwired instincts.

    Hence my emphasis of rational consideration of evolutionary purposes, to fulfill which, it seems to me, traditional religions or instincts have evolved. Both these may however, end up on occasion becoming obsolete, so only a rational process is absolutely reliable.

    Read More
    • Replies: @jtgw
    If you're disregarding your natural empathy, then you're not relying on your emotions.

    Anyway, you can't logically get from is to ought, as Hume demonstrated a long time ago. Your Social Darwinism just takes as axiomatic that what is evolutionarily ideal is also what is moral. I don't accept that axiom.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Glaivester
    This is the biggest issue that makes me pro-choice. I wonder why this topic never comes up in the abortion debate.

    Probably because anyone who would entertain the idea of abortion as a way to reduce birth defects would have to be pro-choice to start with? Arguing for abortion because of its material benefits would only be effective against an opponent who does not feel that abortion is the killing of a person, which rules out the vast majority of people you would be having the debate with.

    To the ears of someone who believes abortion is murder, bringing up kids with birth defects as an argument for abortion would be like arguing for legalizing the euthanasia of special ed kids.

    So bringing the issue up in a debate would imply one of two accusations: either the pro-lifers would be willing to euthanize special ed children, or that they are lying about what they believe about abortion.

    I don’t think everyone is firmly ensconced on one side of the debate or other. There are many who will change their views based on arguments (I think this is true of almost all issues, by the way). Personally, some common pro-choice arguments seem facile and morally abhorrent to me (eg, women have the right to do what they want with their bodies, which implies that they also have no responsibility for the health of a fetus they bring to term).

    With women having babies at later ages, and with better screening technologies, it’s just hard to imagine people would ever allow the state to demand they carry a fetus to term that has serious problems such as Down’s Syndrome. You are correct, though, that one needs to come up with a logical argument justifying abortion in these cases while also not condoning euthanasia for babies with serious defects, and thereby coming across as monstrous to the majority population. Personally, I do think a policy like this would be a good idea, like some of the previous commentators, but it is a step way too far with respect to popular opinion.

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  • @Tarkmargi
    My hypothesis, as I mentioned in my first post, is that morality and instinct are social and individual level behavior traits which have evolved to achieve evolutionary aims.

    For instance, the universal prohibition of theft or murder or dishonesty, ties in quite well with the obvious detrimental impact of these actions on social fitness.

    A very convincing example is that of incest. Incest, when between mutually consenting adults, does not involve force or fraud, yet is still illegal and socially prohibited almost everywhere. Is it merely a coincidence that widely separated societies have all evolved to ban this practice independently?In my view, if a pattern recurs repeatedly and persists, there is likely a macroscopic reason for it.

    With the advent of genetics, it has become clear that incest greatly increases the risk of homogenous recessive genetic disorders. Thus we see that multiple societies have independently evolved norms that are quite convincingly evolutionary in nature.

    On the basis of this kind of reasoning, I have reached the conclusion that "morality" is a set of group level behaviors evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes. The same applies to individual level instincts like pursuit of pleasure (food, sex etc which improve evolutionary fitness) or avoidance of pain (a proxy for injury or social rejection which diminish evolutionary fitness).

    Thus it seems quite clear that morality/instincts are a means of mediating evolutionary goals and is not independent of it.

    In cases where these norms/instincts conflict with explicitly stated evolutionary goals, such as the in the example of obesity caused by the obsolete instinct to over consume, I think it more rational to ignore the instinct or social norm in favor of evolutionary fitness.

    Prohibitions against theft, murder and dishonesty are not universal. Read Peter Frost’s columns here.

    However, I believe that theft, murder and dishonesty are universally immoral, despite the fact that not all cultures prohibit them absolutely in the way modern Western culture (mostly) does. More often, cultures treat in-groups and out-groups, or kin and non-kin, differently: you may be free to kill strangers, but not members of your family, for instance. Your notion that all humans have the same evolved instinct to avoid murder is parochial and false. But I believe your moral intuitions in this instance happen to be correct. It just goes to show that what’s moral and what our instincts tell us to do are not necessarily the same (which isn’t news to Christians, at any rate).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Tarkmargi
    I believe you misunderstand. As I mentioned above, contrary to what you seem to believe, I'm actually a strong opponent of drifting along with emotional impulses to reach decisions. Hence, as I pointed out earlier, I oppose animal rights and support parents' rights to euthanize irremediably severely genetically diseased offspring. These decisions run against my natural empathy, but I disregard that instinct in favor of a more rational long term evolution based decision process because, as I mention above, morality is best understood as a system evolved to further evolutionary aims.

    In cases where traditional moral norms or instincts become counterproductive due to rapid social change, I would disregard them in favor of a more clear headed evolution friendly decision.

    While it is true that there is a variation in in-group/out-group application of prohibitions against murder etc, the best explanation seems to be the variable evolutionary histories behind the different groups. It seems that those populations which have a long history of socialization and experience of centralized states have much more expansive prohibitions against murder irrespective of whether they are Christians or not (just ask the secular Eurpoeans or secular humanists of Amnesty or Human rights watch), whereas populations that are less socialized are more Hobbesian about this.

    It is worth mentioning that Christian conquistadors used Christian justifications to massacre the natives, among numerous examples of Christian disregard for out-group suffering.

    Given the empirically unsupported mythology in which various religions, including Christianity, are embedded and the widely divergent interpretations they enable, they are unreliable moral compasses, in my view, as are hardwired instincts.

    Hence my emphasis of rational consideration of evolutionary purposes, to fulfill which, it seems to me, traditional religions or instincts have evolved. Both these may however, end up on occasion becoming obsolete, so only a rational process is absolutely reliable.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Jim W
    I expect a massive decrease in Down Syndrome incidence.

    This is the biggest issue that makes me pro-choice. I wonder why this topic never comes up in the abortion debate. When I became a parent, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to do pre-screening for problems like these, with the option available for abortion.

    This is the biggest issue that makes me pro-choice. I wonder why this topic never comes up in the abortion debate.

    Probably because anyone who would entertain the idea of abortion as a way to reduce birth defects would have to be pro-choice to start with? Arguing for abortion because of its material benefits would only be effective against an opponent who does not feel that abortion is the killing of a person, which rules out the vast majority of people you would be having the debate with.

    To the ears of someone who believes abortion is murder, bringing up kids with birth defects as an argument for abortion would be like arguing for legalizing the euthanasia of special ed kids.

    So bringing the issue up in a debate would imply one of two accusations: either the pro-lifers would be willing to euthanize special ed children, or that they are lying about what they believe about abortion.

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    • Replies: @Jim W
    I don't think everyone is firmly ensconced on one side of the debate or other. There are many who will change their views based on arguments (I think this is true of almost all issues, by the way). Personally, some common pro-choice arguments seem facile and morally abhorrent to me (eg, women have the right to do what they want with their bodies, which implies that they also have no responsibility for the health of a fetus they bring to term).

    With women having babies at later ages, and with better screening technologies, it's just hard to imagine people would ever allow the state to demand they carry a fetus to term that has serious problems such as Down's Syndrome. You are correct, though, that one needs to come up with a logical argument justifying abortion in these cases while also not condoning euthanasia for babies with serious defects, and thereby coming across as monstrous to the majority population. Personally, I do think a policy like this would be a good idea, like some of the previous commentators, but it is a step way too far with respect to popular opinion.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @jtgw
    You're still relying on a naturalistic fallacy. What's "evolutionarily correct" is not necessarily what's morally correct.

    My hypothesis, as I mentioned in my first post, is that morality and instinct are social and individual level behavior traits which have evolved to achieve evolutionary aims.

    For instance, the universal prohibition of theft or murder or dishonesty, ties in quite well with the obvious detrimental impact of these actions on social fitness.

    A very convincing example is that of incest. Incest, when between mutually consenting adults, does not involve force or fraud, yet is still illegal and socially prohibited almost everywhere. Is it merely a coincidence that widely separated societies have all evolved to ban this practice independently?In my view, if a pattern recurs repeatedly and persists, there is likely a macroscopic reason for it.

    With the advent of genetics, it has become clear that incest greatly increases the risk of homogenous recessive genetic disorders. Thus we see that multiple societies have independently evolved norms that are quite convincingly evolutionary in nature.

    On the basis of this kind of reasoning, I have reached the conclusion that “morality” is a set of group level behaviors evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes. The same applies to individual level instincts like pursuit of pleasure (food, sex etc which improve evolutionary fitness) or avoidance of pain (a proxy for injury or social rejection which diminish evolutionary fitness).

    Thus it seems quite clear that morality/instincts are a means of mediating evolutionary goals and is not independent of it.

    In cases where these norms/instincts conflict with explicitly stated evolutionary goals, such as the in the example of obesity caused by the obsolete instinct to over consume, I think it more rational to ignore the instinct or social norm in favor of evolutionary fitness.

    Read More
    • Replies: @jtgw
    Prohibitions against theft, murder and dishonesty are not universal. Read Peter Frost's columns here.

    However, I believe that theft, murder and dishonesty are universally immoral, despite the fact that not all cultures prohibit them absolutely in the way modern Western culture (mostly) does. More often, cultures treat in-groups and out-groups, or kin and non-kin, differently: you may be free to kill strangers, but not members of your family, for instance. Your notion that all humans have the same evolved instinct to avoid murder is parochial and false. But I believe your moral intuitions in this instance happen to be correct. It just goes to show that what's moral and what our instincts tell us to do are not necessarily the same (which isn't news to Christians, at any rate).
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Tarkmargi
    I'm the last person to suggest following urges just because the exist. As I mentioned above, in this particular case, the emotion seems to be consonant with the evolutionarily correct path, hence it should be followed.

    As I mentioned in my last paragraph, emotions and urges can become obsolete or counterproductive due to rapid environmental change. So I would strongly suggest that obese people reject their urge to over consume.

    To give another example, the instinct of empathy, in my view, has evolved to compel one to part with scarce resources and help out fellow citizens in times of need, who can then return the favor, thus improving group fitness. However, now that far fewer people are in dire need compared to when the instinct evolved, it seems to be leaking out to animals who cannot reciprocate our help, and are therefore not viable candidates for this emotion. Thus the animals rights movement, or the whale worship evident in Western society today.

    May I suggest that perhaps your defence of the unborn Down's fetus is also a result of a similarly misplaced empathy?

    All this is of course, my interpretation and I remain open to changing it when faced with better analysis or new information.

    You’re still relying on a naturalistic fallacy. What’s “evolutionarily correct” is not necessarily what’s morally correct.

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    • Replies: @Tarkmargi
    My hypothesis, as I mentioned in my first post, is that morality and instinct are social and individual level behavior traits which have evolved to achieve evolutionary aims.

    For instance, the universal prohibition of theft or murder or dishonesty, ties in quite well with the obvious detrimental impact of these actions on social fitness.

    A very convincing example is that of incest. Incest, when between mutually consenting adults, does not involve force or fraud, yet is still illegal and socially prohibited almost everywhere. Is it merely a coincidence that widely separated societies have all evolved to ban this practice independently?In my view, if a pattern recurs repeatedly and persists, there is likely a macroscopic reason for it.

    With the advent of genetics, it has become clear that incest greatly increases the risk of homogenous recessive genetic disorders. Thus we see that multiple societies have independently evolved norms that are quite convincingly evolutionary in nature.

    On the basis of this kind of reasoning, I have reached the conclusion that "morality" is a set of group level behaviors evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes. The same applies to individual level instincts like pursuit of pleasure (food, sex etc which improve evolutionary fitness) or avoidance of pain (a proxy for injury or social rejection which diminish evolutionary fitness).

    Thus it seems quite clear that morality/instincts are a means of mediating evolutionary goals and is not independent of it.

    In cases where these norms/instincts conflict with explicitly stated evolutionary goals, such as the in the example of obesity caused by the obsolete instinct to over consume, I think it more rational to ignore the instinct or social norm in favor of evolutionary fitness.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @jtgw
    Your reasoning seems to be based on a naturalistic fallacy: we've evolved to feel certain urges and therefore we are morally obligated to obey those urges. I don't buy that kind of reasoning.

    I’m the last person to suggest following urges just because the exist. As I mentioned above, in this particular case, the emotion seems to be consonant with the evolutionarily correct path, hence it should be followed.

    As I mentioned in my last paragraph, emotions and urges can become obsolete or counterproductive due to rapid environmental change. So I would strongly suggest that obese people reject their urge to over consume.

    To give another example, the instinct of empathy, in my view, has evolved to compel one to part with scarce resources and help out fellow citizens in times of need, who can then return the favor, thus improving group fitness. However, now that far fewer people are in dire need compared to when the instinct evolved, it seems to be leaking out to animals who cannot reciprocate our help, and are therefore not viable candidates for this emotion. Thus the animals rights movement, or the whale worship evident in Western society today.

    May I suggest that perhaps your defence of the unborn Down’s fetus is also a result of a similarly misplaced empathy?

    All this is of course, my interpretation and I remain open to changing it when faced with better analysis or new information.

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    • Replies: @jtgw
    You're still relying on a naturalistic fallacy. What's "evolutionarily correct" is not necessarily what's morally correct.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Tarkmargi
    @jtgw:

    In this case, the parents' emotional response to the suffering of their child is an excellent proxy for their distress at the evolutionary damage caused by a Downs child, who'll consume substantial resources, without providing any long term genetic propagation.

    I think it quite obvious that emotional responses and social concepts like morality have evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes, and in this context, the evolutionarily correct path is abortion.

    I would go so far as to say that parents should be legally able to euthanize, with suitable regulation, already born offspring with severe genetic defects that were undetected during pregnancy, who are likely to be massive drains on their parents and siblings' wellbeing.

    Of course, emotional hardwiring can become obsolete and even counterproductive, such as the high rates of obesity owing to the instinct for overeating and calorie storage as fat.

    Your reasoning seems to be based on a naturalistic fallacy: we’ve evolved to feel certain urges and therefore we are morally obligated to obey those urges. I don’t buy that kind of reasoning.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Tarkmargi
    I'm the last person to suggest following urges just because the exist. As I mentioned above, in this particular case, the emotion seems to be consonant with the evolutionarily correct path, hence it should be followed.

    As I mentioned in my last paragraph, emotions and urges can become obsolete or counterproductive due to rapid environmental change. So I would strongly suggest that obese people reject their urge to over consume.

    To give another example, the instinct of empathy, in my view, has evolved to compel one to part with scarce resources and help out fellow citizens in times of need, who can then return the favor, thus improving group fitness. However, now that far fewer people are in dire need compared to when the instinct evolved, it seems to be leaking out to animals who cannot reciprocate our help, and are therefore not viable candidates for this emotion. Thus the animals rights movement, or the whale worship evident in Western society today.

    May I suggest that perhaps your defence of the unborn Down's fetus is also a result of a similarly misplaced empathy?

    All this is of course, my interpretation and I remain open to changing it when faced with better analysis or new information.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I don’t see any necessity for moral reasoning to be grounded in emotion unless one insists that the ultimate premise or premises of one’s argument are by definition emotional because they are not empirically or scientifically ascertainable or verifiable. No doubt one’s temperament or the emotional impact of one’s life experience will help determine one’s choice of moral premises but it does not follow that one’s personal emotion *has to be* a determining element in the moral rules one subscribes to – though it may well be if one holds inconsistent positions simultaneously.

    My confident assertions can be tested against my totally godless moral reasoning which starts with the proposition that a viable human community must be able to rely on most (nearly all) people expecting that most people will honour some reasonably well defined rules. So there must be rules unless – and here you can accuse me of emotionalism if you like – one is willing to accept a Hobbesian war of all against all as a version of the human condition. So what rules will work? Clearly real world facts could make a considerable difference if only in the emphasis that one would put on one rule or situation or another. Effective pain control is one such factual input of major if not unambiguous import. But how do we live together so as to cause as little pain or strife as may be practicable, with the further condition, express or implicit, that we allow for the maximum self-determination by informed consenting persons? As far as possible we refrain from coercion while we engage in discussion of possible rules and decisions to achieve some kind of Pareto optimum solution. The “discussion” can be the unemotional moral reasoning in one’s own head. N’est-ce pas, Razib?

    None of this, it scarcely needs saying, leaves much scope for those with a special line to a bossy deity who cares or who have personal visceral love of foetuses to lay down rules against abortion which are enforceable by any kind of legsl or social punishment. Nonetheless, I don’t think I would have a problem criticising a healthy married woman for having an abortion who did it without any financial or career pressure or any psychiatric or medical reason pertaining to herself or the foetus at all if she did it without telling her husband or against his wishes and there was a likelihood that she couldn’t become pregnant again with her husband. But it certainly has no public interest element in it to justify making it a criminal legal issue.

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  • @Tarkmargi
    @jtgw:

    In this case, the parents' emotional response to the suffering of their child is an excellent proxy for their distress at the evolutionary damage caused by a Downs child, who'll consume substantial resources, without providing any long term genetic propagation.

    I think it quite obvious that emotional responses and social concepts like morality have evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes, and in this context, the evolutionarily correct path is abortion.

    I would go so far as to say that parents should be legally able to euthanize, with suitable regulation, already born offspring with severe genetic defects that were undetected during pregnancy, who are likely to be massive drains on their parents and siblings' wellbeing.

    Of course, emotional hardwiring can become obsolete and even counterproductive, such as the high rates of obesity owing to the instinct for overeating and calorie storage as fat.

    Agree.

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    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I’m entertained by the thought that I have a “boutique child”.

    In an era when this is becoming increasingly possible, I don’t see why not.

    She’s not exactly how I would have designed her – I would have preferred that she had less pale, more Chinese skin. And no freckles. But that’s about it.

    She will make more of a positive contribution to humanity and alleviate more human suffering than a very high proportion of others. That’s nothing to jeer at.

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  • @jtgw
    I notice that the moral argument in favor of aborting pre-screened DS babies is based on the emotional comfort of the parents, as if that were the most important thing.

    In this case, the parents’ emotional response to the suffering of their child is an excellent proxy for their distress at the evolutionary damage caused by a Downs child, who’ll consume substantial resources, without providing any long term genetic propagation.

    I think it quite obvious that emotional responses and social concepts like morality have evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes, and in this context, the evolutionarily correct path is abortion.

    I would go so far as to say that parents should be legally able to euthanize, with suitable regulation, already born offspring with severe genetic defects that were undetected during pregnancy, who are likely to be massive drains on their parents and siblings’ wellbeing.

    Of course, emotional hardwiring can become obsolete and even counterproductive, such as the high rates of obesity owing to the instinct for overeating and calorie storage as fat.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sandgroper
    Agree.
    , @jtgw
    Your reasoning seems to be based on a naturalistic fallacy: we've evolved to feel certain urges and therefore we are morally obligated to obey those urges. I don't buy that kind of reasoning.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    most of the time i hear it explained as "we don't want our child to live like that." of course that's somewhat self-serving. i think it's a complicated issue in terms of the ultimate motivations. though in practice the outcomes are pretty straightforward; 50 to 90 percent terminate on positive test.

    “50 to 90 percent” is an extremely wide range. Have any more precise studies been done?

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  • The results are interesting enough that I reviewed the full report. The false negative and false positive rates for standard screening is very much worse than the new test.

    The AUC for trisomy 21 was 0.999 for cfDNA testing and 0.958 for standard screening (P=0.001) . . .

    Primary Outcome for Trisomy 21 Screening.

    Of the 38 participants with trisomy 21 with a result on cfDNA testing, cfDNA identified all 38 cases, for a sensitivity of 100% (95% confidence interval [CI], 90.7 to 100). Standard screening identified 30 of 38 cases as positive, a sensitivity of 78.9% (95% CI, 62.7 to 90.4; P=0.008). There were 9 false positives among the 15,803 women in the cfDNA-testing group without trisomy 21, for a false positive rate of 0.06% (95% CI, 0.03 to 0.11). There were 854 false positive results for trisomy 21 on standard screening, for a false positive rate of 5.4% (95% CI, 5.1 to 5.8; P<0.001). The positive predictive value was 80.9% (95% CI, 66.7 to 90.9) for cfDNA testing and 3.4% (95% CI, 2.3 to 4.8) for standard screening (P<0.001) . . . .

    Secondary Analyses

    Trisomy 21

    Among the 11,994 women with low-risk pregnancies on the basis of a maternal age under 35 years, cfDNA testing identified 19 of 19 women with trisomy 21, with 6 false positive results. Among the 14,957 women for whom standard screening showed a risk of less than 1 in 270, cfDNA testing identified 8 of 8 women with trisomy 21, with 8 false positive results. The positive predictive value for cfDNA testing was 76.0% (95% CI, 54.9 to 90.6) for women under the age of 35 years and 50.0% (95% CI, 24.7 to 75.3) for those with a negative result on standard screening.

    Thus, the new screening test had 19 true positives and 6 false positives and no false negatives for low risk women, and 19 true positives, 3 false positives and no false negatives for high risk women.

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  • @Uptown Resident
    I understand that it's unusual, when reasoning about the morality of keeping or aborting a DS fetus, to consider the environmental or animal-welfare implications. But it's a low blow to dismiss such reasons out of hand. As a woman, there is nothing I can do to help the environment--a vegan diet, composting, conserving water, recycling, donating to PETA,etc.--that would reduce my ecological impact MORE than NOT having children. Having children simply multiplies your net ecological impact (as does population growth, at a national scale). There are many environmentalists who forego childbearing altogether out of concerns for the environment and other animals (why mainstream environmentalists no longer advocate for population stabilization/moratorium on immigration is a mystery to me). My husband and I deliberated long and hard whether or not to have children. I've always *wanted* to, having a really strong maternal instinct, but feel guilty about it. We considered how dysgenic fertility patterns are today, and figured that as well-educated, happy, affluent and healthy adults it would be better for us to have children than not to. There's also some evidence that environmentalism is heritable (Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd captain who goes after Japanese whalers talks about this), and so we hope to pass on to our children our advocacy.

    But your suggestion that having a DS baby would be ecologically preferable having a normal baby is interesting. You're right, the DS child will probably have a lower ecological impact--but not for the reasons you mention. Most of our ecological impact comes from the food we eat. The energy and resources expended to make the grain that feeds the cow and get the final product to table. *The DS baby would be ecologically preferable in the longterm if he or she were infertile or did not have children for other reasons.* (Doug Stanhope actually has a comedy routine about this) I would guess that DS children have lower fertility rates than normal children.

    "Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing."

    You are absolutely right (and I also have feelings of contempt for mainstream environmentalists). But I would argue that it's precisely because we think of conservation in terms of individual actions --individual carbon footprint, lifestyle choices, etc.--instead of scale. Our environmental crisis is not the result of rich Westerners driving hummers and flying around the globe. If the USA were still the nation of 2 million it was at its founding, it really wouldn't matter what people were doing. Too few to make an impact. It's the *size* of today's human population that makes all of our activities destructive. Remember that because of preindustrial fertility and mortality patterns, the human population remained always below a billion. In the West, fertility rates were kept well below the biological maximum by delaying the age of marriage, by limiting marriage to those who could support families, and by virtually no illegitimacy. (Gregory Clark discusses this demographic history at length in "A Farewell to Alms".) Our ecological crisis is the result of a population explosion (from 1 billion humans in 1800 to 7 billion and growing today) and the massive demand on resources that this unsustainably large population puts on other animals and the resources that support us all.

    Ultimately, I think it's the moral burden of humanists, especially non-religious humanists, to justify their speciesism. Why is it morally unquestionable to assert the value of the lives of all members of your species above the lives of non-members? Species is just a grouping merely reflecting (mostly) a genealogical similarity: you and I share a last common ancestor more recent than the lca we share with a chimpanzee. I appreciate the necessity of recognizing laws and governments that artificially ascribe rights to citizens, and I would like governments also to recognize certain rights of nonhuman animals (like the right not to suffer needlessly). Human children, whatever their chromosomal status, consume and eat a lot. How many individual animals does an average omnivorous American eat over the course of his life? How many of those animals suffered during their squalid and crowded lives and deaths on factory farms? Is such treatment of sentient animals (if you're a Darwinist, presumably you believe in the common origin of all species, and our own animal status) morally justifiable?

    If people in advanced Western nations don’t have kids they’re hurting the environment, because eventually their populations will be replaced by people from cultures that absolutely ruin the environment. China, for example, is a toxic waste dump. It’s so bad you’d have to see it to believe it (I’ve seen it). Africans still live a Malthusian lifestyle, much of Asia is choking under clouds of smog, Mexico is strewn with garbage and the corpses of endangered animals, etc.

    So by all means have a couple kids. But honestly, most environmentalist/progressive types I know (I’m from Seattle, so I know A LOT), put off kids because of the expense and trouble and then retroactively justify the choice based on environmentalism. It isn’t exactly good for your career to have a kid, and daycare costs almost two grand a month, not to mention the extra space you’ll need. This is why I can understand the impulse to abort a disabled kid, as unfortunate as it may be. Just dealing with one normal kid is much more difficult than it used to be.

    As for Watson saying that environmentalism is heritable, I think that’s kind of funny. More likely it’s the character trait of self-righteous fanaticism that got passed down in his case. That guy’s attacks on the Makah Indians up here were so over-the-top I can’t believe he has any credibility left. However, I do think certain traits, such as conscientiousness, do have something to do with conservationism. Some populations appear to be a lot more conscientious than others.

    I justify my speciesism on both religious and psychological grounds (the two are related IMO). Animals are not “conscious” beings with the ability to reflect on the world. They are immune from feelings of guilt and responsibility because they lack the ability to think in terms of analogy and metaphor. When they act, they don’t do so out of some consciously articulated choice, but rather unconscious compulsion. Most human actions are the result of unconscious compulsion, too, but not all, and it is those few that are that separate us from the beasts.

    Does this mean that animals deserve to be abused? Of course not. On the contrary: it means we have an obligation to them when we use them for our purposes. This is why I think ritual slaughter, when performed in a humane manner, can be a good thing. It reinforces the idea that to kill is no trifling matter, and reminds us that our prosperity has a cost borne by others.

    Of course, I have a sort of different personal theology. I don’t think there is any conflict between science and religion whatsoever, because the religious instinct is integral to what we are as human beings. It’s in our biology, in other words, and I think it’s inherent to all life due to the irrational “purpose” of life.

    When science and religion collide it’s almost always because of mythology, and occasionally due to psychological phenomena that seem to contradict what our conscious minds consider rational. But science contradicts much of what self-declared “secular” people consider self-evident as well. For example, the idea that all people are born with equal capabilities, the fantasy that human populations are fully interchangeable, etc. So who’s really secular, anyway?

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  • @WJ
    Such incredible ignorance and irrationality on this site regarding Down Syndrome. As a parent of a child with DS and who had the option of finding out prior to birth, I can say that many of these commenters know nothing this topic. DS is not a tragedy. They children are not grotesque ogres. They don't inflict suffering on their parents and they don't suffer any more than any other kid.

    To kill these kids because you don't want them suffering is an irrational feeling. I can assure you that every one of your normal children will suffer at some point in their life and as will all of us, they will die. Get over it. If you are too lazy and self centered to have anything other than a boutique child then just simply admit it.

    I respect your choice to carry a Down Syndrome’s child to term. My brother and sister-in-law, for instance, said that if they had conceived a Down Syndrome baby, they would have continued the pregnancy (now a moot point; they’ve both been sterilized). And no, I wasn’t looking for a ’boutique child.’ If, for instance, I was found to be carrying conjoined twins, I would have continued the pregnancy. So I wish you all the best in your parenting, but please don’t disparage those who have taken, or would have taken, a different course of action.

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  • I had to do a double take when the phrase “widespread adoption” was used at the end of this post, due to the potential alternate reading of “widespread adoption [of babies]” as opposed to “widespread adoption [of prenatal testing]“, until the end of that long sentence when the phrase “early adopters” was used.

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  • @Bill P
    I certainly understand point #1, and respect your honesty there. However, I'm not so sympathetic on #2.

    Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing. I consider myself a conservationist, but have feelings of contempt for environmentalists. Largely because I've walked the walk, living as a de-facto poor person for some time (following a divorce) with a carbon footprint on the order of your typical Albanian. Most environmentalists I've met are big spenders, big consumers and enormous hypocrites. I've never met someone with Downs syndrome, on the other hand, who regularly vacations overseas and drives a car.

    If your kid is a successful Westerner, he or she is going to burn a lot of fuel and leave a lot of trash behind. A Downs kid would work at Goodwill, take the bus and live a simple life in which going to Chuck-E-Cheese would be just as fulfilling as a trip to Milan. This is why, incidentally, it's hard for me not to like kids with Downs syndrome.

    But I do understand the burden it puts on parents. I know how hard it is to potty train a normal kid. I'm fully aware of all the years of cleaning up shit and wiping faces and trips to the doctor, which would be magnified by maybe a factor of three for a Downs kid. If you can't handle it, I understand. People in my generation don't have enough kids as it is, so the burden may be intolerable.

    But for God's sake please don't try to justify it with some moral gymnastics about global warming and the environment. Just be honest and say you're doing it for the same reason we used to stop nursing stricken babies and then bury them under one of those little stones you see standing with such awe-inspiring humility in old graveyards.

    I understand that it’s unusual, when reasoning about the morality of keeping or aborting a DS fetus, to consider the environmental or animal-welfare implications. But it’s a low blow to dismiss such reasons out of hand. As a woman, there is nothing I can do to help the environment–a vegan diet, composting, conserving water, recycling, donating to PETA,etc.–that would reduce my ecological impact MORE than NOT having children. Having children simply multiplies your net ecological impact (as does population growth, at a national scale). There are many environmentalists who forego childbearing altogether out of concerns for the environment and other animals (why mainstream environmentalists no longer advocate for population stabilization/moratorium on immigration is a mystery to me). My husband and I deliberated long and hard whether or not to have children. I’ve always *wanted* to, having a really strong maternal instinct, but feel guilty about it. We considered how dysgenic fertility patterns are today, and figured that as well-educated, happy, affluent and healthy adults it would be better for us to have children than not to. There’s also some evidence that environmentalism is heritable (Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd captain who goes after Japanese whalers talks about this), and so we hope to pass on to our children our advocacy.

    But your suggestion that having a DS baby would be ecologically preferable having a normal baby is interesting. You’re right, the DS child will probably have a lower ecological impact–but not for the reasons you mention. Most of our ecological impact comes from the food we eat. The energy and resources expended to make the grain that feeds the cow and get the final product to table. *The DS baby would be ecologically preferable in the longterm if he or she were infertile or did not have children for other reasons.* (Doug Stanhope actually has a comedy routine about this) I would guess that DS children have lower fertility rates than normal children.

    “Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing.”

    You are absolutely right (and I also have feelings of contempt for mainstream environmentalists). But I would argue that it’s precisely because we think of conservation in terms of individual actions –individual carbon footprint, lifestyle choices, etc.–instead of scale. Our environmental crisis is not the result of rich Westerners driving hummers and flying around the globe. If the USA were still the nation of 2 million it was at its founding, it really wouldn’t matter what people were doing. Too few to make an impact. It’s the *size* of today’s human population that makes all of our activities destructive. Remember that because of preindustrial fertility and mortality patterns, the human population remained always below a billion. In the West, fertility rates were kept well below the biological maximum by delaying the age of marriage, by limiting marriage to those who could support families, and by virtually no illegitimacy. (Gregory Clark discusses this demographic history at length in “A Farewell to Alms”.) Our ecological crisis is the result of a population explosion (from 1 billion humans in 1800 to 7 billion and growing today) and the massive demand on resources that this unsustainably large population puts on other animals and the resources that support us all.

    Ultimately, I think it’s the moral burden of humanists, especially non-religious humanists, to justify their speciesism. Why is it morally unquestionable to assert the value of the lives of all members of your species above the lives of non-members? Species is just a grouping merely reflecting (mostly) a genealogical similarity: you and I share a last common ancestor more recent than the lca we share with a chimpanzee. I appreciate the necessity of recognizing laws and governments that artificially ascribe rights to citizens, and I would like governments also to recognize certain rights of nonhuman animals (like the right not to suffer needlessly). Human children, whatever their chromosomal status, consume and eat a lot. How many individual animals does an average omnivorous American eat over the course of his life? How many of those animals suffered during their squalid and crowded lives and deaths on factory farms? Is such treatment of sentient animals (if you’re a Darwinist, presumably you believe in the common origin of all species, and our own animal status) morally justifiable?

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    • Replies: @Bill P
    If people in advanced Western nations don't have kids they're hurting the environment, because eventually their populations will be replaced by people from cultures that absolutely ruin the environment. China, for example, is a toxic waste dump. It's so bad you'd have to see it to believe it (I've seen it). Africans still live a Malthusian lifestyle, much of Asia is choking under clouds of smog, Mexico is strewn with garbage and the corpses of endangered animals, etc.

    So by all means have a couple kids. But honestly, most environmentalist/progressive types I know (I'm from Seattle, so I know A LOT), put off kids because of the expense and trouble and then retroactively justify the choice based on environmentalism. It isn't exactly good for your career to have a kid, and daycare costs almost two grand a month, not to mention the extra space you'll need. This is why I can understand the impulse to abort a disabled kid, as unfortunate as it may be. Just dealing with one normal kid is much more difficult than it used to be.

    As for Watson saying that environmentalism is heritable, I think that's kind of funny. More likely it's the character trait of self-righteous fanaticism that got passed down in his case. That guy's attacks on the Makah Indians up here were so over-the-top I can't believe he has any credibility left. However, I do think certain traits, such as conscientiousness, do have something to do with conservationism. Some populations appear to be a lot more conscientious than others.

    I justify my speciesism on both religious and psychological grounds (the two are related IMO). Animals are not "conscious" beings with the ability to reflect on the world. They are immune from feelings of guilt and responsibility because they lack the ability to think in terms of analogy and metaphor. When they act, they don't do so out of some consciously articulated choice, but rather unconscious compulsion. Most human actions are the result of unconscious compulsion, too, but not all, and it is those few that are that separate us from the beasts.

    Does this mean that animals deserve to be abused? Of course not. On the contrary: it means we have an obligation to them when we use them for our purposes. This is why I think ritual slaughter, when performed in a humane manner, can be a good thing. It reinforces the idea that to kill is no trifling matter, and reminds us that our prosperity has a cost borne by others.

    Of course, I have a sort of different personal theology. I don't think there is any conflict between science and religion whatsoever, because the religious instinct is integral to what we are as human beings. It's in our biology, in other words, and I think it's inherent to all life due to the irrational "purpose" of life.

    When science and religion collide it's almost always because of mythology, and occasionally due to psychological phenomena that seem to contradict what our conscious minds consider rational. But science contradicts much of what self-declared "secular" people consider self-evident as well. For example, the idea that all people are born with equal capabilities, the fantasy that human populations are fully interchangeable, etc. So who's really secular, anyway?
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  • @MattinLA
    Uptown Resident says "I tend strongly toward misanthropy." Not surprising from your comments. You appear to be a high-functioning psychopath.

    Lol. Very kind of you!

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  • @WJ
    Such incredible ignorance and irrationality on this site regarding Down Syndrome. As a parent of a child with DS and who had the option of finding out prior to birth, I can say that many of these commenters know nothing this topic. DS is not a tragedy. They children are not grotesque ogres. They don't inflict suffering on their parents and they don't suffer any more than any other kid.

    To kill these kids because you don't want them suffering is an irrational feeling. I can assure you that every one of your normal children will suffer at some point in their life and as will all of us, they will die. Get over it. If you are too lazy and self centered to have anything other than a boutique child then just simply admit it.

    If you believe that abortion is equivalent to murder, then I suppose you’ll be against it in any case.

    If you believe abortion is morally neutral (moral equivalent of not having sex in the first place), or even in an in-between moral grey zone, then I don’t see the point in keeping a fetus with serious problems when you have the option of aborting and trying again.

    Yes, everyone suffers, but on balance both the child and parents are better off (on average and all else equal) if the child does not have Down’s Syndrome.

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  • @WJ
    Such incredible ignorance and irrationality on this site regarding Down Syndrome. As a parent of a child with DS and who had the option of finding out prior to birth, I can say that many of these commenters know nothing this topic. DS is not a tragedy. They children are not grotesque ogres. They don't inflict suffering on their parents and they don't suffer any more than any other kid.

    To kill these kids because you don't want them suffering is an irrational feeling. I can assure you that every one of your normal children will suffer at some point in their life and as will all of us, they will die. Get over it. If you are too lazy and self centered to have anything other than a boutique child then just simply admit it.

    future comments shouldn’t be so dismissive about other peoples’ opinions if they want to be published.

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  • WJ says:

    Such incredible ignorance and irrationality on this site regarding Down Syndrome. As a parent of a child with DS and who had the option of finding out prior to birth, I can say that many of these commenters know nothing this topic. DS is not a tragedy. They children are not grotesque ogres. They don’t inflict suffering on their parents and they don’t suffer any more than any other kid.

    To kill these kids because you don’t want them suffering is an irrational feeling. I can assure you that every one of your normal children will suffer at some point in their life and as will all of us, they will die. Get over it. If you are too lazy and self centered to have anything other than a boutique child then just simply admit it.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    future comments shouldn't be so dismissive about other peoples' opinions if they want to be published.
    , @Jim W
    If you believe that abortion is equivalent to murder, then I suppose you'll be against it in any case.

    If you believe abortion is morally neutral (moral equivalent of not having sex in the first place), or even in an in-between moral grey zone, then I don't see the point in keeping a fetus with serious problems when you have the option of aborting and trying again.

    Yes, everyone suffers, but on balance both the child and parents are better off (on average and all else equal) if the child does not have Down's Syndrome.
    , @Emilia
    I respect your choice to carry a Down Syndrome's child to term. My brother and sister-in-law, for instance, said that if they had conceived a Down Syndrome baby, they would have continued the pregnancy (now a moot point; they've both been sterilized). And no, I wasn't looking for a 'boutique child.' If, for instance, I was found to be carrying conjoined twins, I would have continued the pregnancy. So I wish you all the best in your parenting, but please don't disparage those who have taken, or would have taken, a different course of action.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Uptown Resident
    Bill,

    I agree with you that, for some families, the Downs baby is not a tragedy. I have a Downs cousin who is cherished by her family.

    But even as a pregnant, emotional woman, I would enthusiastically abort a Downs fetus. And have zero qualms about it. In fact, my own feeling is that aborting a Downs fetus would be the *morally responsible* thing to do. The reasons are (1) I have limited reproductive years, and want to spend them gestating and raising children who will not only be fully independent and go on to raise their own children, but who will also be able to contribute to our civilization and perhaps to a body of knowledge; (2) there are too many humans on the planet already, and adding another consuming, polluting, destructive human to the world is justifiable only if the child will be capable of carrying on its parents' advocacy for the environment, western literature civilization, animal welfare, science, etc.

    It is worth pointing out that in poorer ages and societies, infanticide for deformed babies was the rule. Jared Diamond discusses this in The World Until Yesterday. You accuse people who would abort Down Syndrome babies of being materialistic. Arguably, it is precisely because our society is so material-rich that families even have the luxury of sparing retarded children.

    I certainly understand point #1, and respect your honesty there. However, I’m not so sympathetic on #2.

    Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing. I consider myself a conservationist, but have feelings of contempt for environmentalists. Largely because I’ve walked the walk, living as a de-facto poor person for some time (following a divorce) with a carbon footprint on the order of your typical Albanian. Most environmentalists I’ve met are big spenders, big consumers and enormous hypocrites. I’ve never met someone with Downs syndrome, on the other hand, who regularly vacations overseas and drives a car.

    If your kid is a successful Westerner, he or she is going to burn a lot of fuel and leave a lot of trash behind. A Downs kid would work at Goodwill, take the bus and live a simple life in which going to Chuck-E-Cheese would be just as fulfilling as a trip to Milan. This is why, incidentally, it’s hard for me not to like kids with Downs syndrome.

    But I do understand the burden it puts on parents. I know how hard it is to potty train a normal kid. I’m fully aware of all the years of cleaning up shit and wiping faces and trips to the doctor, which would be magnified by maybe a factor of three for a Downs kid. If you can’t handle it, I understand. People in my generation don’t have enough kids as it is, so the burden may be intolerable.

    But for God’s sake please don’t try to justify it with some moral gymnastics about global warming and the environment. Just be honest and say you’re doing it for the same reason we used to stop nursing stricken babies and then bury them under one of those little stones you see standing with such awe-inspiring humility in old graveyards.

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    • Replies: @Uptown Resident
    I understand that it's unusual, when reasoning about the morality of keeping or aborting a DS fetus, to consider the environmental or animal-welfare implications. But it's a low blow to dismiss such reasons out of hand. As a woman, there is nothing I can do to help the environment--a vegan diet, composting, conserving water, recycling, donating to PETA,etc.--that would reduce my ecological impact MORE than NOT having children. Having children simply multiplies your net ecological impact (as does population growth, at a national scale). There are many environmentalists who forego childbearing altogether out of concerns for the environment and other animals (why mainstream environmentalists no longer advocate for population stabilization/moratorium on immigration is a mystery to me). My husband and I deliberated long and hard whether or not to have children. I've always *wanted* to, having a really strong maternal instinct, but feel guilty about it. We considered how dysgenic fertility patterns are today, and figured that as well-educated, happy, affluent and healthy adults it would be better for us to have children than not to. There's also some evidence that environmentalism is heritable (Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd captain who goes after Japanese whalers talks about this), and so we hope to pass on to our children our advocacy.

    But your suggestion that having a DS baby would be ecologically preferable having a normal baby is interesting. You're right, the DS child will probably have a lower ecological impact--but not for the reasons you mention. Most of our ecological impact comes from the food we eat. The energy and resources expended to make the grain that feeds the cow and get the final product to table. *The DS baby would be ecologically preferable in the longterm if he or she were infertile or did not have children for other reasons.* (Doug Stanhope actually has a comedy routine about this) I would guess that DS children have lower fertility rates than normal children.

    "Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing."

    You are absolutely right (and I also have feelings of contempt for mainstream environmentalists). But I would argue that it's precisely because we think of conservation in terms of individual actions --individual carbon footprint, lifestyle choices, etc.--instead of scale. Our environmental crisis is not the result of rich Westerners driving hummers and flying around the globe. If the USA were still the nation of 2 million it was at its founding, it really wouldn't matter what people were doing. Too few to make an impact. It's the *size* of today's human population that makes all of our activities destructive. Remember that because of preindustrial fertility and mortality patterns, the human population remained always below a billion. In the West, fertility rates were kept well below the biological maximum by delaying the age of marriage, by limiting marriage to those who could support families, and by virtually no illegitimacy. (Gregory Clark discusses this demographic history at length in "A Farewell to Alms".) Our ecological crisis is the result of a population explosion (from 1 billion humans in 1800 to 7 billion and growing today) and the massive demand on resources that this unsustainably large population puts on other animals and the resources that support us all.

    Ultimately, I think it's the moral burden of humanists, especially non-religious humanists, to justify their speciesism. Why is it morally unquestionable to assert the value of the lives of all members of your species above the lives of non-members? Species is just a grouping merely reflecting (mostly) a genealogical similarity: you and I share a last common ancestor more recent than the lca we share with a chimpanzee. I appreciate the necessity of recognizing laws and governments that artificially ascribe rights to citizens, and I would like governments also to recognize certain rights of nonhuman animals (like the right not to suffer needlessly). Human children, whatever their chromosomal status, consume and eat a lot. How many individual animals does an average omnivorous American eat over the course of his life? How many of those animals suffered during their squalid and crowded lives and deaths on factory farms? Is such treatment of sentient animals (if you're a Darwinist, presumably you believe in the common origin of all species, and our own animal status) morally justifiable?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Uptown Resident says “I tend strongly toward misanthropy.” Not surprising from your comments. You appear to be a high-functioning psychopath.

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    • Replies: @Uptown Resident
    Lol. Very kind of you!
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  • In Ancient Greece, the Spartans would throw handicapped infants over a clif. Zero Down syndrome children in Sparta.

    The History Channel once showed history.

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  • @Razib Khan
    emotions are probably the basis of most moral reasoning. cognitively less taxing than reason ;-)

    Do you think it’s possible to do moral reasoning without an emotional basis? If impossible, do you think that the emotional basis of reasoning is heritable? Specifically, do you think that Western attitudes toward Down Syndrome fetuses, toward the various “Other,” to humanity at large, could reflect an evolved empathy for members of your own species? And why on earth would that be?

    I’ve often wondered this because, while I have empathy toward friends and family, people I work with, etc., I do not have species-wide empathy. At all. I tend strongly toward misanthropy. And I have extreme, sometimes crippling empathy for non-human animals that are suffering through human exploitation. I have deeply considered and researched reasons for this moral reasoning, but it is ultimately based in a gut-level horror at humanity and overwhelming pity for nonhuman animals. I’ve noticed that not many people are like this. Even Peter Singer seems to place every member of his own species before a member of the next.

    Yet I find Western humanitarianism baffling. Sometimes I can make sense of it as a secularization of Christianity. Secular attitudes toward Down Syndrome babies likewise smack of Christian anthropocentrism. But I feel like the level of emotion involved in Western humanitarianism suggests some hardwiring that does not bode well for the planet.

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  • @Bill P
    From my own observation, Downs children are noticeably less common than they were a generation ago. However, I think it should be pointed out that they are not always a "tragedy" to their families. People can and do love them as much as normal children. Charles Darwin, for example, was very affectionate toward his Downs syndrome child, but it's probably much more difficult for those with limited means.

    Most abortions, IMO, stem from materialist motives. I am actually more sympathetic to people who admit that motive than excuses about preventing the child's suffering, because raising a disabled child in poverty is essentially martyrdom for a parent, whereas disabled children (both mentally and physically) generally are happy to be alive.

    Bill,

    I agree with you that, for some families, the Downs baby is not a tragedy. I have a Downs cousin who is cherished by her family.

    But even as a pregnant, emotional woman, I would enthusiastically abort a Downs fetus. And have zero qualms about it. In fact, my own feeling is that aborting a Downs fetus would be the *morally responsible* thing to do. The reasons are (1) I have limited reproductive years, and want to spend them gestating and raising children who will not only be fully independent and go on to raise their own children, but who will also be able to contribute to our civilization and perhaps to a body of knowledge; (2) there are too many humans on the planet already, and adding another consuming, polluting, destructive human to the world is justifiable only if the child will be capable of carrying on its parents’ advocacy for the environment, western literature civilization, animal welfare, science, etc.

    It is worth pointing out that in poorer ages and societies, infanticide for deformed babies was the rule. Jared Diamond discusses this in The World Until Yesterday. You accuse people who would abort Down Syndrome babies of being materialistic. Arguably, it is precisely because our society is so material-rich that families even have the luxury of sparing retarded children.

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    • Replies: @Bill P
    I certainly understand point #1, and respect your honesty there. However, I'm not so sympathetic on #2.

    Advocacy, as practiced in the West, counts for nothing. I consider myself a conservationist, but have feelings of contempt for environmentalists. Largely because I've walked the walk, living as a de-facto poor person for some time (following a divorce) with a carbon footprint on the order of your typical Albanian. Most environmentalists I've met are big spenders, big consumers and enormous hypocrites. I've never met someone with Downs syndrome, on the other hand, who regularly vacations overseas and drives a car.

    If your kid is a successful Westerner, he or she is going to burn a lot of fuel and leave a lot of trash behind. A Downs kid would work at Goodwill, take the bus and live a simple life in which going to Chuck-E-Cheese would be just as fulfilling as a trip to Milan. This is why, incidentally, it's hard for me not to like kids with Downs syndrome.

    But I do understand the burden it puts on parents. I know how hard it is to potty train a normal kid. I'm fully aware of all the years of cleaning up shit and wiping faces and trips to the doctor, which would be magnified by maybe a factor of three for a Downs kid. If you can't handle it, I understand. People in my generation don't have enough kids as it is, so the burden may be intolerable.

    But for God's sake please don't try to justify it with some moral gymnastics about global warming and the environment. Just be honest and say you're doing it for the same reason we used to stop nursing stricken babies and then bury them under one of those little stones you see standing with such awe-inspiring humility in old graveyards.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I am pessimistic about Khan’s prediction of a future with less Down Syndrome. Here’s why.

    (1) In my experience (33yo and 25 weeks pregnant with first child), antenatal medical professionals are uneasy about screening and abortion-track patients. Back in December, I was begging my genetic counselor to let me do the NIPT, a maternal blood serum test like the one examined in this study. According to our normal first trimester screen (blood test + nuchal translucency ultrasound test), there was something like a 1 in 5,000 risk of a false negative for Down Syndrome. The GC said that a NIPT would just increase the risk of a false positive, and that they wouldn’t do it. (We also did a genetic screen through Inherigen. I figured from our 23andMe raw data that we weren’t carriers for anything scary, but I wanted more certainty than my own interpretation of our Promethease results afforded.)

    Naively, I was very open with my OB and genetic counselor about my desire for the *most information possible* so we could make a decision about whether to terminate the pregnancy. I assumed that getting an abortion in the case of a positive result for trisomies, etc. was the whole point of testing. Nope. It’s so families can be prepared to deal with their Down baby, my GC suggested. The GC, in particular, took a disapproving and emotional tone toward my cavalier attitude toward a trisomy fetus. I didn’t particularly care–there is nothing anyone could do to shame me into keeping a fetus with serious genetic abnormalities–although the thought crossed my mind that she might hide a positive result, knowing how I intended to act with that information.

    (2) My sense is that our tolerance-mongering culture is telling women that discriminating against Down Syndrome fetuses is bad. For instance, when I talk to women who have testing done, they are quick to add, “not that we would abort–we just wanted to know to be prepared.” And many women I know opt *not* to get tested: “We already know that we wouldn’t abort the baby so why test?” One friend who opted not to test for that reason ended up having to get a late-term abortion because it was discovered that her fetus was missing a brain (anencephaly). Could have caught that in the first trimester! There’s also the whole personification/infantilization of the fetus–I’m not talking about Christian right-to-lifers, but rather mainstream pregnancy websites like the bump.com, which gives you weekly updates on what your baby is up to in the womb, and the ubiquity of ultrasounds, including 4-D ultrasounds, that encourage bonding with the fetus.

    (3) Delayed childbearing continues apace, and no one warns you about the hazards of being old and pregnant when you decide, say, to spend your prime reproductive years traveling abroad or beginning a PhD program. Most smart, secular girls are not even thinking about marriage and childbearing until they hit 30. By contrast, one of my very religious younger sisters is pregnant with her fourth child as I’m pregnant with my first. So maybe we’ll just see the gradual extinction of secular types as they fail to bear children, or bear infertile children.

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  • Another motive for aborting (or preventing the conception of in the first place) fetuses with Down Syndrome is to avoid placing a burden on one’s existing children. I decided to have only one biological child, and one – not the only, but one – of the reasons I didn’t have more is because at the age I had my daughter, I had a higher than normal risk of conceiving a child with Down Syndrome and I didn’t feel I could burden my daughter with responsibility for a sibling who would basically always be a child for the rest of his/her life. If I had conceived a second child who tested positive for Down Syndrome, I would almost certainly have had an abortion. However, I used a very effective birth control method so I was never faced with that decision (and now I highly doubt I’m fertile anymore).

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  • @wilzard
    @jgtw you claim to get your morals from your religion.

    However, you should be intellectually honest and admit that you, same as everyone else whether they are religious or not, reason or rationalize your morals.

    You may believe it is more important to stop abortion for any reason but I believe it is only ever the decision of the family involved.

    chill on the patronizing tone. it’s not conducive to optimal discussion.

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  • @jtgw
    I partly agree. I wouldn't say morals always need to be grounded in reason. I also wouldn't say they need to be grounded in emotion. As a religious person, I'd say they are grounded in faith and I'd distinguish faith from both reason and emotion, but that's getting us into some thorny philosophical discussion.

    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress.

    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress

    i probably agree. though i’d be cautious about offering this as disjoint options. there’s a huge variation in DS individuals from what i’ve seen. some of them are not normal in function, but quite functional and can viably lead a life of semi-independence. in contrasts, others are not really verbal, and will require a lifetime’s worth of very close parental and post-parental (when parents die) care. in the former case the argument about the suffering of the children and the parents’ emotional distress is less persuasive. in the latter case, the situation differs. to my knowledge we don’t know how to distinguish the two though.

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  • @jtgw
    I partly agree. I wouldn't say morals always need to be grounded in reason. I also wouldn't say they need to be grounded in emotion. As a religious person, I'd say they are grounded in faith and I'd distinguish faith from both reason and emotion, but that's getting us into some thorny philosophical discussion.

    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress.

    @jgtw you claim to get your morals from your religion.

    However, you should be intellectually honest and admit that you, same as everyone else whether they are religious or not, reason or rationalize your morals.

    You may believe it is more important to stop abortion for any reason but I believe it is only ever the decision of the family involved.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    chill on the patronizing tone. it's not conducive to optimal discussion.
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  • From my own observation, Downs children are noticeably less common than they were a generation ago. However, I think it should be pointed out that they are not always a “tragedy” to their families. People can and do love them as much as normal children. Charles Darwin, for example, was very affectionate toward his Downs syndrome child, but it’s probably much more difficult for those with limited means.

    Most abortions, IMO, stem from materialist motives. I am actually more sympathetic to people who admit that motive than excuses about preventing the child’s suffering, because raising a disabled child in poverty is essentially martyrdom for a parent, whereas disabled children (both mentally and physically) generally are happy to be alive.

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    • Replies: @Uptown Resident
    Bill,

    I agree with you that, for some families, the Downs baby is not a tragedy. I have a Downs cousin who is cherished by her family.

    But even as a pregnant, emotional woman, I would enthusiastically abort a Downs fetus. And have zero qualms about it. In fact, my own feeling is that aborting a Downs fetus would be the *morally responsible* thing to do. The reasons are (1) I have limited reproductive years, and want to spend them gestating and raising children who will not only be fully independent and go on to raise their own children, but who will also be able to contribute to our civilization and perhaps to a body of knowledge; (2) there are too many humans on the planet already, and adding another consuming, polluting, destructive human to the world is justifiable only if the child will be capable of carrying on its parents' advocacy for the environment, western literature civilization, animal welfare, science, etc.

    It is worth pointing out that in poorer ages and societies, infanticide for deformed babies was the rule. Jared Diamond discusses this in The World Until Yesterday. You accuse people who would abort Down Syndrome babies of being materialistic. Arguably, it is precisely because our society is so material-rich that families even have the luxury of sparing retarded children.
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  • @Razib Khan
    emotions are probably the basis of most moral reasoning. cognitively less taxing than reason ;-)

    I partly agree. I wouldn’t say morals always need to be grounded in reason. I also wouldn’t say they need to be grounded in emotion. As a religious person, I’d say they are grounded in faith and I’d distinguish faith from both reason and emotion, but that’s getting us into some thorny philosophical discussion.

    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress.

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    • Replies: @wilzard
    @jgtw you claim to get your morals from your religion.

    However, you should be intellectually honest and admit that you, same as everyone else whether they are religious or not, reason or rationalize your morals.

    You may believe it is more important to stop abortion for any reason but I believe it is only ever the decision of the family involved.
    , @Razib Khan
    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress

    i probably agree. though i'd be cautious about offering this as disjoint options. there's a huge variation in DS individuals from what i've seen. some of them are not normal in function, but quite functional and can viably lead a life of semi-independence. in contrasts, others are not really verbal, and will require a lifetime's worth of very close parental and post-parental (when parents die) care. in the former case the argument about the suffering of the children and the parents' emotional distress is less persuasive. in the latter case, the situation differs. to my knowledge we don't know how to distinguish the two though.
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  • @jtgw
    I wasn't questioning people's emotional responses. I was questioning whether these emotions ought to be the basis of moral reasoning and making decisions about abortion.

    emotions are probably the basis of most moral reasoning. cognitively less taxing than reason ;-)

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    • Replies: @jtgw
    I partly agree. I wouldn't say morals always need to be grounded in reason. I also wouldn't say they need to be grounded in emotion. As a religious person, I'd say they are grounded in faith and I'd distinguish faith from both reason and emotion, but that's getting us into some thorny philosophical discussion.

    I find the argument that DS babies should be aborted to prevent their own future suffering more (though not fully) persuasive, at any rate, than the argument that they should be aborted to save the parents emotional distress.
    , @Uptown Resident
    Do you think it's possible to do moral reasoning without an emotional basis? If impossible, do you think that the emotional basis of reasoning is heritable? Specifically, do you think that Western attitudes toward Down Syndrome fetuses, toward the various "Other," to humanity at large, could reflect an evolved empathy for members of your own species? And why on earth would that be?

    I've often wondered this because, while I have empathy toward friends and family, people I work with, etc., I do not have species-wide empathy. At all. I tend strongly toward misanthropy. And I have extreme, sometimes crippling empathy for non-human animals that are suffering through human exploitation. I have deeply considered and researched reasons for this moral reasoning, but it is ultimately based in a gut-level horror at humanity and overwhelming pity for nonhuman animals. I've noticed that not many people are like this. Even Peter Singer seems to place every member of his own species before a member of the next.

    Yet I find Western humanitarianism baffling. Sometimes I can make sense of it as a secularization of Christianity. Secular attitudes toward Down Syndrome babies likewise smack of Christian anthropocentrism. But I feel like the level of emotion involved in Western humanitarianism suggests some hardwiring that does not bode well for the planet.
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  • @AG
    Well, that is the very reason that nobody feel sad about precious sperms wasted during masturbation or eggs wasted during sex with birth control. It is because gamets can not survive on their own. Human emotion is linked to the nature of biological usefulenss.

    There is saying about 3 types of saddest death for relatives.
    1. When you are child who lose parents.
    2. When you are aldut who lose spouse.
    3. When you are senior who lose grown children.

    But they all share the same kind of death: a full grown adult in his or her prime age when the person can provide the most value for the survivors. The deaths of very young or old or long-term sicken always cause less emotional reaction. If you work in healthcare facility, you will notice the pattern.

    I wasn’t questioning people’s emotional responses. I was questioning whether these emotions ought to be the basis of moral reasoning and making decisions about abortion.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    emotions are probably the basis of most moral reasoning. cognitively less taxing than reason ;-)
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  • AG says:
    @jtgw
    I notice that the moral argument in favor of aborting pre-screened DS babies is based on the emotional comfort of the parents, as if that were the most important thing.

    Well, that is the very reason that nobody feel sad about precious sperms wasted during masturbation or eggs wasted during sex with birth control. It is because gamets can not survive on their own. Human emotion is linked to the nature of biological usefulenss.

    There is saying about 3 types of saddest death for relatives.
    1. When you are child who lose parents.
    2. When you are aldut who lose spouse.
    3. When you are senior who lose grown children.

    But they all share the same kind of death: a full grown adult in his or her prime age when the person can provide the most value for the survivors. The deaths of very young or old or long-term sicken always cause less emotional reaction. If you work in healthcare facility, you will notice the pattern.

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    • Replies: @jtgw
    I wasn't questioning people's emotional responses. I was questioning whether these emotions ought to be the basis of moral reasoning and making decisions about abortion.
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  • @jtgw
    I notice that the moral argument in favor of aborting pre-screened DS babies is based on the emotional comfort of the parents, as if that were the most important thing.

    most of the time i hear it explained as “we don’t want our child to live like that.” of course that’s somewhat self-serving. i think it’s a complicated issue in terms of the ultimate motivations. though in practice the outcomes are pretty straightforward; 50 to 90 percent terminate on positive test.

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    • Replies: @James Kabala
    "50 to 90 percent" is an extremely wide range. Have any more precise studies been done?
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  • I notice that the moral argument in favor of aborting pre-screened DS babies is based on the emotional comfort of the parents, as if that were the most important thing.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    most of the time i hear it explained as "we don't want our child to live like that." of course that's somewhat self-serving. i think it's a complicated issue in terms of the ultimate motivations. though in practice the outcomes are pretty straightforward; 50 to 90 percent terminate on positive test.
    , @AG
    Well, that is the very reason that nobody feel sad about precious sperms wasted during masturbation or eggs wasted during sex with birth control. It is because gamets can not survive on their own. Human emotion is linked to the nature of biological usefulenss.

    There is saying about 3 types of saddest death for relatives.
    1. When you are child who lose parents.
    2. When you are aldut who lose spouse.
    3. When you are senior who lose grown children.

    But they all share the same kind of death: a full grown adult in his or her prime age when the person can provide the most value for the survivors. The deaths of very young or old or long-term sicken always cause less emotional reaction. If you work in healthcare facility, you will notice the pattern.
    , @Tarkmargi
    @jtgw:

    In this case, the parents' emotional response to the suffering of their child is an excellent proxy for their distress at the evolutionary damage caused by a Downs child, who'll consume substantial resources, without providing any long term genetic propagation.

    I think it quite obvious that emotional responses and social concepts like morality have evolved to fulfill evolutionary purposes, and in this context, the evolutionarily correct path is abortion.

    I would go so far as to say that parents should be legally able to euthanize, with suitable regulation, already born offspring with severe genetic defects that were undetected during pregnancy, who are likely to be massive drains on their parents and siblings' wellbeing.

    Of course, emotional hardwiring can become obsolete and even counterproductive, such as the high rates of obesity owing to the instinct for overeating and calorie storage as fat.
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  • AG says:

    Though rare, today we just encountered a case of neonatal leukemia. Genetic test is pending. Most likely a Down newborn. Outcome is grim.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12759620

    If people are more open to prenatal screening and termination of major genetic defect, such tragedy can be avoided.

    Emotionally, it is much more heart wrenching to see a newborn dying than termination of fetus which can not live independently. For that matter, most death from genetic disease often end up in their teens or young adults. People dying at their prime ages are mot disturbing events than people dying at old ages (again with waning independency). These unfortunate kids dying while other in the same age enjoy life at full.

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  • I expect a massive decrease in Down Syndrome incidence.

    This is the biggest issue that makes me pro-choice. I wonder why this topic never comes up in the abortion debate. When I became a parent, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to do pre-screening for problems like these, with the option available for abortion.

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    • Replies: @Glaivester
    This is the biggest issue that makes me pro-choice. I wonder why this topic never comes up in the abortion debate.

    Probably because anyone who would entertain the idea of abortion as a way to reduce birth defects would have to be pro-choice to start with? Arguing for abortion because of its material benefits would only be effective against an opponent who does not feel that abortion is the killing of a person, which rules out the vast majority of people you would be having the debate with.

    To the ears of someone who believes abortion is murder, bringing up kids with birth defects as an argument for abortion would be like arguing for legalizing the euthanasia of special ed kids.

    So bringing the issue up in a debate would imply one of two accusations: either the pro-lifers would be willing to euthanize special ed children, or that they are lying about what they believe about abortion.
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  • I am going to get back to the eugenics debate at some point, but it is hard to motivate myself. This is due to a combination of complacency and sanguinity. Many of those who use eugenics as a "scare word" or are "very concerned about it" don't really seem to get past generalities when it...
  • @Razib Khan
    yes, and no. raw data is not value add. analysis is. the specific screens are short term stop gap. we'll have reasonable whole genome sequencing in the next 10 years of 1st trimester fetuses i assume.

    Interestingly, I see that these new papers use the Harmony Prenatal Test from Ariosa, which has been sued by two different parties for patent infringement, with Ariosa claiming the test is an unpatentable law of nature: http://www.law360.com/articles/390223/stanford-prenatal-blood-test-co-say-rival-infringes-patent

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  • @Neuroconservative
    I'm fully with you on this, but I am unclear what you think about patentability of these screening tests. Would you oppose patents, as in the previous discussion of BRCA1 screening, and if so, do you think this would impede the advancement and commercialization of the technology?

    yes, and no. raw data is not value add. analysis is. the specific screens are short term stop gap. we’ll have reasonable whole genome sequencing in the next 10 years of 1st trimester fetuses i assume.

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    • Replies: @Neuroconservative
    Interestingly, I see that these new papers use the Harmony Prenatal Test from Ariosa, which has been sued by two different parties for patent infringement, with Ariosa claiming the test is an unpatentable law of nature: http://www.law360.com/articles/390223/stanford-prenatal-blood-test-co-say-rival-infringes-patent
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  • I’m fully with you on this, but I am unclear what you think about patentability of these screening tests. Would you oppose patents, as in the previous discussion of BRCA1 screening, and if so, do you think this would impede the advancement and commercialization of the technology?

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    yes, and no. raw data is not value add. analysis is. the specific screens are short term stop gap. we'll have reasonable whole genome sequencing in the next 10 years of 1st trimester fetuses i assume.
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  • @Kevin Bonham
    Yeah, there are always people trying to have the thoughtful conversations, but those comment threads get filled with so much inane crap that it's hard to hold on to the thread.

    I'm looking forward to seeing you delve into the fray on this one - I'm not sure if we'll agree or disagree, but it should be a fun conversation.

    One could still take the optimistic view that in the proverbial “long run”, evidence and rational thinking are very powerful. The first hysterical reactions and counter-reactions may echo for decades, but the echo does fade with time..eppur si muove and all that

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  • @Razib Khan
    well, and yet to my extent my frustration *is* about facts. the facts being the nazis, which come up over and over. this makes it almost impossible to have a deep discussion about our *present* trajectory, because the nazi referent just clouds and muddies everything.

    Yeah, there are always people trying to have the thoughtful conversations, but those comment threads get filled with so much inane crap that it’s hard to hold on to the thread.

    I’m looking forward to seeing you delve into the fray on this one – I’m not sure if we’ll agree or disagree, but it should be a fun conversation.

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    • Replies: @omarali50
    One could still take the optimistic view that in the proverbial "long run", evidence and rational thinking are very powerful. The first hysterical reactions and counter-reactions may echo for decades, but the echo does fade with time..eppur si muove and all that
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  • @Randy McDonald
    It's not obvious to me why someone should be forced to remain pregnant for reasons of eventual medical research. In fact, I can think of many reasons why that is a terrible thing to do.

    well, the # of DS children isn’t declining that fast, because of later childbearing. more and more women are having positive tests, and even if 90% abort, you can maintain the # of DS children because the # of positive results keeps going up. at least this is happening in some european countries (also, when i visited italy a few years back i saw many more DS children than i’m use to seeing here in the states; combination of catholicism + late childbearing i assume).

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  • @Kevin Bonham
    Yeah, that naturalistic fallacy is quite vexing among liberals, but I wish, just once, we could have a discussion about science and morals that's not about politics.


    Yes, it's clear that liberally minded vs conservative minded people might have different objections based on their philosophy, and that's appropriate, but it would be nice to come to a consensus on the facts first, and then discuss the moral arguments from there.

    well, and yet to my extent my frustration *is* about facts. the facts being the nazis, which come up over and over. this makes it almost impossible to have a deep discussion about our *present* trajectory, because the nazi referent just clouds and muddies everything.

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    • Replies: @Kevin Bonham
    Yeah, there are always people trying to have the thoughtful conversations, but those comment threads get filled with so much inane crap that it's hard to hold on to the thread.

    I'm looking forward to seeing you delve into the fray on this one - I'm not sure if we'll agree or disagree, but it should be a fun conversation.

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  • @Razib Khan
    agreed.

    my personal experience is the left-liberal objections to *contemporary* changes are often not too coherent (e.g. one of the people responding positively to kevin mitchell's thorough post actually made the case against selective screens on offspring because adversity makes you stronger, which i think is an extremely superficial, shallow, and frankly dangerous, argument to make). the right-conservative objection mainly has to do with abortion, and that's obviously going to be a hot potato since i expect 1st trimester abortions are going to be a major part of the 'portfolio' of options (some more sophisticated catholic thinkers go beyond abortion, and converge with the left-liberal objections of anti-GMO types, about the sanctity of nature/god's work, etc.).

    Yeah, that naturalistic fallacy is quite vexing among liberals, but I wish, just once, we could have a discussion about science and morals that’s not about politics.

    Yes, it’s clear that liberally minded vs conservative minded people might have different objections based on their philosophy, and that’s appropriate, but it would be nice to come to a consensus on the facts first, and then discuss the moral arguments from there.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    well, and yet to my extent my frustration *is* about facts. the facts being the nazis, which come up over and over. this makes it almost impossible to have a deep discussion about our *present* trajectory, because the nazi referent just clouds and muddies everything.
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  • @Kevin Bonham
    It is, but that luxury is spilling over into the developing world (see: resistance to golden rice). Still, considering the conversation about genetically modifying food is as shrill as it is, the conversation around genetically modifying people is going to be out of control.

    agreed.

    my personal experience is the left-liberal objections to *contemporary* changes are often not too coherent (e.g. one of the people responding positively to kevin mitchell’s thorough post actually made the case against selective screens on offspring because adversity makes you stronger, which i think is an extremely superficial, shallow, and frankly dangerous, argument to make). the right-conservative objection mainly has to do with abortion, and that’s obviously going to be a hot potato since i expect 1st trimester abortions are going to be a major part of the ‘portfolio’ of options (some more sophisticated catholic thinkers go beyond abortion, and converge with the left-liberal objections of anti-GMO types, about the sanctity of nature/god’s work, etc.).

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    • Replies: @Kevin Bonham
    Yeah, that naturalistic fallacy is quite vexing among liberals, but I wish, just once, we could have a discussion about science and morals that's not about politics.


    Yes, it's clear that liberally minded vs conservative minded people might have different objections based on their philosophy, and that's appropriate, but it would be nice to come to a consensus on the facts first, and then discuss the moral arguments from there.

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  • @Razib Khan
    Considering the debates swirling around genetically engineered crops, I have no confidence that the debate will be rational or well thought out.


    but GMO crops are kind of fait accompli. european (and japanese) reticence is developed nation luxury.

    It is, but that luxury is spilling over into the developing world (see: resistance to golden rice). Still, considering the conversation about genetically modifying food is as shrill as it is, the conversation around genetically modifying people is going to be out of control.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    agreed.

    my personal experience is the left-liberal objections to *contemporary* changes are often not too coherent (e.g. one of the people responding positively to kevin mitchell's thorough post actually made the case against selective screens on offspring because adversity makes you stronger, which i think is an extremely superficial, shallow, and frankly dangerous, argument to make). the right-conservative objection mainly has to do with abortion, and that's obviously going to be a hot potato since i expect 1st trimester abortions are going to be a major part of the 'portfolio' of options (some more sophisticated catholic thinkers go beyond abortion, and converge with the left-liberal objections of anti-GMO types, about the sanctity of nature/god's work, etc.).

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  • @Anonymous
    "Individuals with Down’s syndrome display a lower incidence of many
    types of cancer, and the candidate genes on chromosome 21 that confer
    this protection from cancer are actively sought. In Nature, Sandra Ryeom and colleagues now report that two chromosome-21 genes, Dscr1 (Down’s syndrome candidate region-1) and Dyrk1a (dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinase 1A), block tumor cell expansion by inhibiting angiogenesis."
    http://www.signaling-gateway.org/update/updates/200906/su-0906-1.html

    I wonder what other potentially species-wide adaptive advantages are associated with this phenotype.

    Oh well. If I don't understand something, I'd better just cut it out (I call this "The Cochran Method").

    It’s not obvious to me why someone should be forced to remain pregnant for reasons of eventual medical research. In fact, I can think of many reasons why that is a terrible thing to do.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    well, the # of DS children isn't declining that fast, because of later childbearing. more and more women are having positive tests, and even if 90% abort, you can maintain the # of DS children because the # of positive results keeps going up. at least this is happening in some european countries (also, when i visited italy a few years back i saw many more DS children than i'm use to seeing here in the states; combination of catholicism + late childbearing i assume).
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  • @Kevin Bonham
    I suspect that this debate, and the related one that will come with our increasing ability to genetically engineer people, are going to be the major moral debates of the 21st century.


    Considering the debates swirling around genetically engineered crops, I have no confidence that the debate will be rational or well thought out.

    Considering the debates swirling around genetically engineered crops, I have no confidence that the debate will be rational or well thought out.

    but GMO crops are kind of fait accompli. european (and japanese) reticence is developed nation luxury.

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    • Replies: @Kevin Bonham
    It is, but that luxury is spilling over into the developing world (see: resistance to golden rice). Still, considering the conversation about genetically modifying food is as shrill as it is, the conversation around genetically modifying people is going to be out of control.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I suspect that this debate, and the related one that will come with our increasing ability to genetically engineer people, are going to be the major moral debates of the 21st century.

    Considering the debates swirling around genetically engineered crops, I have no confidence that the debate will be rational or well thought out.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Considering the debates swirling around genetically engineered crops, I have no confidence that the debate will be rational or well thought out.


    but GMO crops are kind of fait accompli. european (and japanese) reticence is developed nation luxury.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “Individuals with Down’s syndrome display a lower incidence of many
    types of cancer, and the candidate genes on chromosome 21 that confer
    this protection from cancer are actively sought. In Nature, Sandra Ryeom and colleagues now report that two chromosome-21 genes, Dscr1 (Down’s syndrome candidate region-1) and Dyrk1a (dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinase 1A), block tumor cell expansion by inhibiting angiogenesis.”

    http://www.signaling-gateway.org/update/updates/200906/su-0906-1.html

    I wonder what other potentially species-wide adaptive advantages are associated with this phenotype.

    Oh well. If I don’t understand something, I’d better just cut it out (I call this “The Cochran Method”).

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    • Replies: @Randy McDonald
    It's not obvious to me why someone should be forced to remain pregnant for reasons of eventual medical research. In fact, I can think of many reasons why that is a terrible thing to do.
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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • #21, look, the main issue is that you can make a case that DS isn’t “bad,” because being “bad” is a normative thing. from a genetic perspective there’s no comparison between normal variation and karyotype abnormalities. the two are qualitatively different. but, i’m not going to accept your definition, period, and i’m going to try and convince other people to reject it. i think rejecting the proposition that DS is “bad” is symptomatic of the tendency toward rejection of the idea of difference, and the values that differences may result in. comparing gastrointestinal disease to DS is farcical on the face of it to me, but i isn’t to you or those who agree with you (i.e., this sort of analogy has cropped up repeatedly). a major problem with our society’s inability to cope with difference is that it seems we’ve lost a sense of degree of difference.

    finally, you say: I don’t really see how that makes my life less worthy or valuable. i didn’t anywhere say that a person with DS’s life is less worth or valuble. i said that down syndrome is bad. i did not say that people with down syndrome are bad (on the contrary, those who have good impulse control tend to be notably nice people). many readers immediately saw the distinction, but some of you refuse to see it, or claim that it can’t be made, or don’t see it.

    it’s hard to have a serious discussion when your interlocutors insist on mischaracterizing your own position. i don’t react well to this. that’s why i banned peter ellis. he refused to believe i was saying what i was saying, and kept imputing his own interpretation of what i was saying. instead you just plainly interjected a model of what i was saying when i explicitly rejected that model several times.

    i’ll be talking about this issue in the future, in part because it comes up in my everyday conversation too. people simply have a hard time saying anything is “bad,” because that means people who may have some of that thing are “bad.” but at his point i’m not interested in pursuing this conversation any longer, because too often i’m having to reiterate that i didn’t say anything was imputed to me.

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  • Razib – You asked several questions worthy of considering:

    1) How could a lifetime of likely dependency be a gift?
    2) How could impaired cognitive development be a gift?
    3) How could gastroesophageal reflux disease and its expensive, twice daily medicine be a gift?
    4) How could two full years of potty training with no end in sight be a gift?

    1) That is all of us realize it or not. No man is an island. Those that think they are are least happy.

    2) Impaired is a relative term. You are less intelligent than another human. Is your life a gift or a burden due to this relative deficit?

    3) What percent of the Ds population are you referring to? Granted I have GERD, but I don’t really see how that makes my life less worthy or valuable. Perhaps I am missing something.

    4) Most parents go thru potty training. While it may not always be pleasant, teaching your children things is often work. And with the work comes the reward of success. I don’t see how this is any different.

    These arguments as supports for your thesis of DS being “bad” are weak and poorly thought out.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • If I had polio or cancer and you could eradicate those diseases, I would be the same person in spirit

    in fact, many people who have had cancer say that the experience changes them as a person. who we are as people at a given moment a sum of experiences. also, the distinction between ‘classic’ and ‘genetic’ diseases is no useful. most humans in fact have genetic predispositions for various diseases (e.g., BRCA).

    Reading the surveys and demographic studies might be quite eye-opening to the enlightened reader.

    where are they?

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  • To address Brad more specifically: his daughter’s Down Syndrome is not a necessary condition for her being a wonderful and amazing person. I wish she did not have Down Syndrome.

    Being tolerant of a reasonable range of genetic and phenotypic diversity does not mean that one should be equanimous to the birth of people with karytotype abnormalities.
    Diversity is not strength when that diversity is diversity of disease. Heart disease, congenital defects, disfigurements, obesity, and mental retardation are not strengths. They are all tragedies of various degrees.
    It is doubtful we can abolish disease, but we can make a dent it in.

    Our values will guide our actions. Let’s have a frank and honest discussion about them.

    Hi -I think it is important that I make clear that unlike the author, as my child’s father, I do not wish “she did not have Down Syndrome” – I love her very much for who she is today.

    The author refers to my daughter’s extra chromosome as a disease. While circles of the medical community refer to it as a disease, a bigger problem arises with the use of the word “disease” – people immediately assume “eradication” would be the solution. A genetic “disease” is very different from a classic “disease” – an external being attacking one’s body. If I had polio or cancer and you could eradicate those diseases, I would be the same person in spirit, but without the added health and psychological impacts of the “attack of something foreign”.

    Eradicating my daughter’s genetic makeup would eradicate the person I love. I never spend time wishing for a Brianna without Down syndrome. I do hope there are ways to ameliorate some of her symptoms (I gladly put her under the knife to fix the hole in her heart). I would like to see educational and scientific research be able to help her function more independently in society versus the prior generation of folks with DS. But that is very different than trying to take her DS away; I would never ask nor want that. Before you judge that, keep in mind that I have a real relationship with a real live person. I am not performing “what-if” scenarios from you keyboard. And I love this child very much.

    Once you refer to a genetic difference as a “disease” it begins to mutate the way you think about people with that genetic makeup. You begin using words like the author such as “being tolerant” and referring to my daughter’s life as a “tragedy”. No one asked the author if she could deem who “should be tolerated” in our society. It’s an unfathomable topic to come out of a person’s mouth – in my opinion. I can tell you my daughter has a happy life that no one around her would consider a tragedy.

    In truth, the vast majority of parents who have a child with DS don’t view their child, their lives, or their families as part of a tragedy at all. Most readers would be amazed to find how many of us view our children with DS as one of our biggest gifts – and we come from all religious/non-religious political and educational backgrounds you could imagine. Reading the surveys and demographic studies might be quite eye-opening to the enlightened reader.
    Lastly, I tie back an important sentence from the author: “It is doubtful we can abolish disease, but we can make a dent it in.” Abolishing this “genetic disease” can only be accomplished the way you would eradicate red hair. But, you certainly can put a dent in it if you continue to talk down about a group of people; perhaps more people will start to believe it.

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • Screw whatever they say on other blogs, I love this stuff.

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  • I do not accept your facile cariacature that “Lefty” people are arguing that {insert genetic condition X} is a good thing

    hey asshole, i didn’t say that. don’t call me facile if you don’t understand what i’m saying (the inference is made because of the misunderstanding alluded to by previous commenter). your time for interpretation is over. go back to the bench and stop reading me.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • AG says:

    Once upon a time, I saw people arguing over each other and calling each other names in a clinical lobby due to (genetically) malformed girl passing through with her parents. It was all because some (about 50%) people in the waiting lobby made coments that such child should not keep alive. All hell broken lose. The parents of deformed kid did not participate the arguement. But you can imagine how they feel. At end, hospital had to have quarrelling people seperated.
    For certain issue, people can not handle the truth. Religions, psychological defense, or self-delutional belief are only way to prevent people from deteriating into depression and suicide. It is actually easier for dull people to do so since they are not sure what is truth in the first place. Ignorance is bliss some time.
    When I noticed some people arguing me with blatant bullshit, I simply would not continue. 1. It is wasting time to argue with idiots. 2. It is heartless to hurt people who depend on self-delution to survive. I can not handle some one’s suicide because I told the truth. But I have no problem telling 3ird party truth if they preached by self-delutional people.

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • “If your entire point was to say “Down syndrome is genetically mediated and has adverse consequences”, you took a lot of words to say it!”

    17, you’re still not getting it! Look up, literally about 8 inches, and you’ll see that Razib stated outright–and emboldened!–his main point!

    This is absurd… Why are people not getting this?

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  • @15: That’s not how your previous post came across.

    If your entire point was to say “Down syndrome is genetically mediated and has adverse consequences”, you took a lot of words to say it!

    Instead, you open up in your first paragraph talking about how 90% of couples with a positive screening test choose to abort, then talk about reducing disease (how do you reduce a genetic disease except by selecting against it, whether pre- or post-conception?), and close by saying “our values will guide our actions” (again, what actions could possibly be relevant other than selection?)

    I do not accept your facile cariacature that “Lefty” people are arguing that {insert genetic condition X} is a good thing. Rather, whether explicitly stated or not, they are carrying out the cost-benefit analysis of the benefit from reducing cases of X and the harm caused by the means of reducing X. And so we have mutual incomprehension.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • The major flaw in this post is that it fails to distinguish between effects on individuals and effects on society as a whole. Height is one clear example. A person who is seven feet tall may do very well in a society with an average height of five feet, but a society where the average height is seven feet is no better off than a society where the average height is five feet.

    So, when discussing what traits are advantageous or disadvantageous, we need to consider if they just give the individual a competitive advantage or if they actually provide a real benefit. Intelligence and health are definitely in the later category, but I fail to see how raising the average level of attractiveness makes society happier. Asian women are objectively more attractive than European women, but does that make Asians happier than Europeans?

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  • “Yes, we parents really DO feel that some (not all) people think that our children should not exist.”

    Not to trivialise, but some people still disapprove of miscegenation. If we’re going to talk about “some people”, it will never end. Some people are psychopaths.

    General observation – I have seen some people not looking at DS people. True. From what I see, some people’s reaction to any kind of disability or visual or behavioural difference is not to look at it. But I have seen some people just not notice them too. In public it is actually quite easy not to notice that a child is DS, simply because their appearance and behaviour are really not that far from normative; I have done it myself – just not noticed for a while. It can be quite difficult to spot quickly in public if the DS person is Chinese among a crowd of other Chinese people (people used to call the condition ‘mongoloid’, right?) Many are pretty capable people, and I would need to be a bit of a moron not to know that there are some high profile DS actors and DS people who hold down regular jobs, who incidentally seem to distinguish themselves by their conscientiousness, to the extent that I wonder if that is ‘characteristic’.

    I have had a kind of defensive reaction from the parents of DS kids because I *have* looked at them and smiled at them, in a culture where it is quite normal for adults to look at kids and smile in a friendly way. I don’t blame them for that either. The reactions I see from most people everywhere who notice is rather kindly, maybe because most people (i) know it is difficult for the parents, (ii) have some grasp or understanding of the condition and realise what gentle, loving and often sweet/cute people DS people generally are. They certainly do not suggest that the majority think your child should not exist. I think it’s kind of unworthy not to recognise that most people are pretty compassionate/altruistic at a person-to-person level and are certainly not sitting there thinking “That kid should not exist.”

    That is not at all the same thing as people thinking that it would be a good thing if future children could be prevented from being DS.

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • Karl Zimmerman, your compassionate perspective in #11 adds insight to the discussion.

    A thought experiment alluded to a number if times on this and prior threads remains — If you had the ability to confer the Downs Syndrome (cochlear deafness, etc.) phenotype on a wild-type loved one (real or potential), would you do so? Heck, would you choose to confer it on yourself?

    My answer: No. No.

    Is anybody answering “Yes”? It there some way that “Yes” is ethical or practical?

    For reasons given in #11, some people are terribly uneasy with the bluntness of No, and argue against Razib’s clearly stated position. Without offering a logical and clearly stated alternative.

    I ‘d prefer people to strive to say what they mean and discuss the implications, but I see that may not be a reasonable expectation.

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  • The central problem with this conversation (it appears to me) is that Razib appears to be trying to start a discussion about the merits of genetic selection in isolation, divorced from the means by which such selection is exercised

    no, i’m trying to make a point about human inequality and difference. i’ve stated this several times. DS is an extreme case. if you can’t acknowledge that DS is “bad”, the game is lost.

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  • The central problem with this conversation (it appears to me) is that Razib appears to be trying to start a discussion about the merits of genetic selection in isolation, divorced from the means by which such selection is exercised. That is a futile tack to take, because it considers only the possible advantages of selection without the accompanying drawbacks.

    If, for example, one could take a magic pill which ensured that you only generated ova / sperm with a normal karyotype, with no side effects whatsoever, I think pretty much everyone would want to take it[1]. But no such pill exists, and so it’s a meaningless hypothetical. Until and unless pre-conception methods of selection are developed, then the selection debate is inextricably entangled with the abortion debate – what degree of disability / difference justifies killing the product of a fertilisation event [2], and at what developmental stage might it be justified?

    Unless you address both the end and the means, then all you’re left with is handwaving and a general sentiment of “wouldn’t it be nice if we could ensure children are born with a good suite of heritable traits”. That plus 50p will get you a pretty lousy cup of vending machine tea.

    [1] Assuming they genuinely understood the consequences, lack of drawbacks, etc.

    [2] Deliberately phrasing this here to avoid taking a stand on when a zygote/embryo/fetus attains “personhood”, as that’s part of the whole debate and people will have differing opinions

    {Edit to add: For the avoidance of doubt, I do believe that there are conditions where abortion may be justified (feel free to think up your own examples, but for me it doesn’t include Down syndrome), and others where it is not (likewise). I’m pretty sure that’s not the debate Razib wants to have: but my point is that given the current state of the art, it’s the only possible debate.}

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I wonder if Mr. Kahn would ask those people with DS if they think it is “bad” and what their response would be. Here is a link to a video of 35 people with developmental disabilities who were asked what they would change about themselves. It is interesting to hear what is said and what is not said.

    http://www.thinkinclusive.us/one-question/

    Tim Villegas

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  • Ed says:

    Being egalitarian, liberal etc. often gets unfairly thrown in with ‘left’ in the political spectrum (because typically in the US it is the ‘left’ that are also liberal). It is however, possible to be a right-aligned liberal(focused on individual rights, freedoms, equal opportunity, egalitarianism etc.) for example.

    It is also possible to NOT have an egalitarian bone in your body, but realize that markets (even if only strategic or key segments of it) need to be controlled and/or regulated for national good. This is also usually defined as ‘left’.

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  • I think it’s rather simple why people who are parents of children with Downs Syndrome keep responding the way they do. The default (probably through biology, in terms of mothers, although partially cultural, in terms of fathers) is to nearly-unconditionally love your children with a deep passion. Children with DS, whatever else is wrong with their cognition and bodies, have the normal human responses in terms of both self-awareness and awareness that other people are thinking/feeling beings themselves. Thus, they are capable of loving their parents back.

    I would predict, for these reasons, that parents of children with much more profound mental disabilities – along with parents of children with autism – would feel far more equivocal about their child’s status – and deep down inside, their child him or herself. They might be devoted to their care, but more frequently frustrated, angry, and distant, as they get no emotional reward back. And indeed, even among devoted parents of autistic children, few seem willing to accept their child as they are – instead desperately questing for some answer as to “what did this to them?”

    Essentially, reciprocal love conquers in terms of the parent-child bond, even if in the wider world, the shortcomings of the child are self-evident. But we don’t ask for cognitive equality as a condition of love anyway – how else could we love our own pets?

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  • If Down syndrome is a gift, should we be researching ways to give extra chromosomes to future generations?

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  • Your list isn’t exhaustive– Terry Wahls is a doctor with MS, did her own research, and used a moderately alternative approach (a somewhat extreme diet and TENS) to reverse her symptoms.

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  • Hmmmm, how about a thought experiment to clarify and reveal people’s preferences:

    Your child is be born with Down’s and has the classic extra chromosome. We can now engineer a new egg without the extra chromosome so the new child will be born as the “standard” version of the child with Down’s. Would you implant the new egg for gestation and raise the “standard” child alongside the older Down’s sibling?

    Lest anyone think this is idle speculation, remember human cloning is theoretically possible today.

    Our reality will soon include more options than many in the mainstream even deem possible.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    #43, Yes, we parents really DO feel that some (not all) people think that our children should not exist. It’s hard not to believe, looking at some of the posts that people leave on this and other articles on the topic.

    Interestingly enough, people rarely, if ever, respond to my daughter that way (well, but I have gotten looks, or rather, non-looks). Are they just being polite? Perhaps. Or, it’s easier to dismiss a theoretical “type” than a flesh-and-blood human being standing in front of you, who is cute, funny, and charming. Usually that’s the way people respond to my daughter–as a cute little girl.

    This is an interesting dialogue–I appreciate hearing peoples’ honest opinions–at the same time, it is hard not to feel defensive or wanting to convince people how great your kid is.

    Caring for a person with Down syndrome is difficult–I wouldn’t wish it on any family, and if I could magically take away her DS, would I? Probably. Sometimes I wonder what my daughter would be like without it? She might be even cuter or funnier. Then again, her DS does form part of what makes her unique, and even though it is cliche, having her in my life has made me a much better (and happier) person.

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • Tomazs R.(4), does this question have any relevance to the thread?

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  • The thing that I find troubling is that people closely related to DS people seem to think that saying “DS is bad” as a condition equates somehow to someone saying that their DS close relatives should not have the right to exist, or that they are somehow not worthy people, when it has been made abundantly clear that is specifically not what has been said, and the distinction has been made clear.

    More broadly I have been kind of interested in the politics of disability in Australia and the various accusations of being “ableist” – like, if someone is working to try to eliminate some form of disability in future generations of people, that is being “ableist” and discriminatory.

    The slightly surprising (to me) data point is that 10% of all people in Australia are classified as “disabled” for real purposes, such as assistance, government disability pensions, etc. The range of disability is of course great and very heterogenous, and includes conditions like asthma. Off-hand, I don’t know if it includes allergies; I don’t think so – if it did, the number would be higher than 10%, given the ability of the native flora to get up people’s noses. Of course, it would be pretty ridiculous of me to suggest that DS and allergies are comparable – for the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting any such thing – or that DS and asthma are comparable, but they are lumped together as ‘disabled’.

    The way the politics play out of course is that it is in the interests of the disabled lobby to have as many people among their ranks as possible to gain political clout, but that becomes disadvantageous when it comes to sharing out the available resources and services. So then it becomes…I think you can see where that goes.

    There is one notable disabled journalist on the Australian Broadcasting Commission which broadcasts nationally who also does country-wide speaking tours, etc who repeatedly uses examples of the way that disabled people are variously treated/dealt with that have actually not been true now for many decades. No one seems to be willing to call her out as a liar within the country, although externally the highly indignant response to any such allegation is “Australia is far more advanced than that!” My sister has a disabled son, and she nearly ties herself in knots with this stuff, simultaneously supporting and denying it.

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  • Having a child with Down syndrome is a club no one realized how much they wanted to be a part of until they were there.

    You cannot possibly understand. You’ve never been there, but I think there might come a day when you do.

    It takes maturity.

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  • To S.J. Esposito:
    I’m interested if people diagnosed with degenerative dieseases such dieseases as MS try alternative treatments, research information or just follow doctors advice.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • ‘they are responding to the feeling that many people think their child does not have value as a human being’

    ‘people believe their child should be extinct’

    Your inferences are actually disgraceful. The majority of people behave more altruistically than you seem to be willing to give them credit for. Do you seriously think that ‘people’ think your daughter should ‘be extinct’?

    ‘why are we here?’ – Chemical accident.

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  • BTW,

    I don’t think you were trying to comment on the value of people with Down Syndrome, just that the genetic condition in and of it’s self is bad. But I am trying to say it is not bad, just a trip to Holland instead of Italy. If you have not read this essay, you should: http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • I wasn’t going to comment on this whole thing, but it strikes me as particularly disturbing that so many people are having trouble digesting the statements made on this blog. I find it equally disturbing that some people are seemingly okay with the fact that a disease–condition, cluster or traits, whatever you want–defines who their loved one is as a person in total. I wonder how said loved one would feel about this…

    My mother has been diagnosed with MS for 17 years. I know what it’s like to care for someone who is plagued with a disease. Her afflictions have become so prominent in her life and mine that it sometimes can seem to be her defining feature and the defining feature of our family life. However, this is not really the case–my mother is more than her constant pain, strange gait, etc.. And I can tell you this much: if there was cure for her disease tomorrow, she’d be first in line and she’d live a much better life for it.

    Afflictions such as DS may be qualitatively different in the way they affect people, but the main point is the same and Razib has stated that point factually, over and over again.

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • Reading the original article and the comments, I have this to add. I have twins daughters. One is “typical” one has Down Syndrome. The day we had them, we found out the news and it was “bad”. It is not what you wish for. They are eleven now, the shock of the “bad” of her genetic condition has worn off and she is just who she is. Not bad or good, just herself, just like my other daughter.

    I agree when parents say how great their child with Down Syndrome is, they are responding to the feeling that many people think their child does not have value as a human being. They get defensive that they have to PROVE their value every day. Other people don’t have to PROVE their right to exist. The abortion rate is reported to be around 90% for fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome. This is scary to the parents of people with Down Syndrome because people believe their child should be extinct. It is hard not to be emotional about that.

    There is difference between saying a condition is “bad” and saying that the person does not have any value. I believe all life has the potential to add value and all life has the potential to be worthless. That is the concept of free will. Let’s be honest, most of us don’t meet our full potential. So that is the “slippery slope”. I believe people with family members that have Down Syndrome are offended that you are just looking at them as a condition not as an individual who as the same right to exist as any other person.

    Razib’s response “i don’t think we should view humans solely as ends toward the betterment of others” is the only thing I really take issue with. As humans we are not “solely” here for the betterment of others, but what a great side benefit. If we are not here for the betterment of others, why are we here? Why do we respect Gandhi and Mother Teresa? Why do we love lines in movies that say “you make me be a better man” ? I believe we are here to have relationships that make us better people.

    Both of my daughters have made me a better person. The one that has Down Syndrome has made me grateful for the things I can control and accept the things I cannot. And she also makes me realize that maybe sometimes the things I cannot control are the real gifts. Would I want her to have Down Syndrome if I could have prevented it? Honestly, no. Do I think she has value and has the same right to exist as my “typical” daughter, ABSOLUTELY. I am grateful and proud to be the Mom of both of them.

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  • I often criticize Lefty readers for their lack of reality-basis. Specifically, they often want to align reality with their own normative preferences, even though normative preferences aren't necessarily contingent upon reality (e.g., sex differences). My post on Down Syndrome has elicited similar responses, but from people one might term social conservatives. So, for example, Ursula...
  • Camon, Razib. Take a break, man.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Both parties are right – of course downs in itself is nothing to be celebrated. but that’s so obviously not what your previous commentator was saying – his comments relate to his daughter as an individual, a human being. Something distinct to all those accurate symptomatic descriptions. Both views are true simultaneously – can scientists handle that plurality? I think perhaps this is a non debate, don’t you?

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  • An interesting comment: I feel to some extent that the commenter is engaging in a few rhetorical tricks (e.g., contrasting Down Syndrome
  • umm, ok. my bad dude, sorry.

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  • dude, sometimes you need to shut the fuck up. you don’t always know what my intent was.

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  • that this post was unlikely to not get the reactions you did get: eg. the choir, and mischaracterizers/bashers. ie. you knew you’d be saying no nazi this and I’ll ban you that.

    the outing was maligned from the get-go.

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  • #36, what are you even talking about?

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  • “e.g., my sympathy for singularitarianism”

    rolls eyes :) lol

    Razib, starting this thread was like walking through the bad neighborhood, you know you should’ve gone around, cause of the principal of the thing. :D Chooseth your battles, my friend.

    Sometimes times a public “my bad” is more productive, and spread your word in a more grass-roots, and personal fashion, in private. No elegance of words can always over come the inadequacies of the setting/set-up.

    Sorta like Haidt’s: you gotta talk to the elephant first! :D

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  • Ed says:

    I think beauty is subjective to an extent. For instance, my Korean friends think women like Lauren London and Megan Fox are ugly! They prefer women who look like anime characters or “painted dol”l K-Pop stars.

    relevant

    http://tremblethedevil.com/?p=2595&page=2

    I’m not sure of the scientific integrity of the source myself to be 100% honest.

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  • Dviersity is not comparable to dieseases. Diversity contains positive adaptations that are not always recognized as such by majority. Eg. people living in high mountains are better being short and muscular, while people living on flat lands benefit from longer limbs and slim frame. So “taller is better” stereotype is not justified. There’s also a conflict between strength capacity and endurance – even though muscules are found attractive they can be detrimental for some movement profiles. Same with aspects like size of female boobs – smaller sizes are more practical for the owners than large ones, even though larger ones are valued by the opposite sex. Smaller size of a human is a good adaptation for famines. Shyness and introversion are good ways to survive extremely cruel dictatorships.

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  • I would vastly prefer dealing with a DS person who is unable to act in a socially acceptably manner.

    dude, parents of some of the larger people with DS who exhibit less self-control have to deal with this every day of their lives. that’s what paul was talking about. so yeah, if you are willing to sign up for that instead of dealing with random jackasses every now and then during midsummer, step right on up!

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  • pcconroy, I have had to witness enough bad behaviour – sexual harassment – from quite normal men towards women so that I don’t think that such behaviour from DS persons should be given that much importance. The father had the son to a control to a large extent based on your post, try to instead intervene when a drunken, quite normal man in a bus starts to grope women. I have intervened – to”Who are you to tell me what to do!” shouts – and I would vastly prefer dealing with a DS person who is unable to act in a socially acceptably manner.

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