Sept. 10, 2008
All the recent hullabaloo over Gov. Palin's son with Down syndrome, Trig, has reminded me of an excellent recent book: Worth and Welfare in the Controversy over Abortion, by Christopher Miles Coope.
Coope, a medical ethicist by practice and a philosopher of psychology and language by training, does an interesting job of evaluating the ethics of abortion (writ large, consciously bypassing so-called "hard cases") by taking a somewhat peripatetic approach, avoiding the dogmatism that often comes from a consciously systematic metaphysics.
Coope admits that he "recently" came to the question of abortion in a serious way. In his youth he considered it some, falling into the secularist camp of Glanville Williams more than anything else. He went on to make a philosophical career without giving the matter much thought. Then:
I dare say the matter never crossed my mind until, many years later, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child. Since she was then well in her thirties she was of course offered 'the tests.' Well, who wants a damaged baby? I was, I remember, quite anxious that the chromosomes should carefully be counted. I just refused to consider what if. Distressing choices, I must have said to myself, should not be faced while it was still unsettled whether the question arose. In dedicating the book to the memory of the child in question, my son and good friend Nicholas, who died on the cliffs of Glen Cova while I was writing it, I cannot help but thinking back to these beginnings. I am acutely aware that had 'the tests' turned out differently, he might well have been killed by doctors, with my connivance, before he was born. Luck saved him - and me. How many there are who have not been lucky.
Through his recognition of the moral and emotional difficulties inherent in prenatal testing as it exists today-namely in its propensity to lead towards destruction of "damaged" babies-the rather liberal Coope decided to give us a splendid book. Likewise, it is hard to see Gov. Palin's meteoric rise with Trig at her side and not conclude that her decision to have and to raise a child with Down syndrome has struck a public chord in some way or another. All this leads me to think there is, culturally, more under the surface on this facet of the abortion debate than meets the eye.