Sunday, May 6, 2012

WP Columnist George Will Celebrates the 40th Birthday of His Son – Born With Down’s Syndrome – A Feel Good Story Except

This forum has frequently criticized Washington Post conservative columnist George Will, as his opinion pieces are typically not only wrong but also employ illogical and inconsistent analysis.  As an individual Mr. Will has a very nice family, including his oldest son Jon who was born with Down’s Syndrome.  Mr. Will celebrates Jon’s life of 40 years in his column.
Mr. Will Uses His Son to Condemns Other People as Immoral

A Wonderful Family But . . .

The eldest of four siblings, he has seen two brothers and a sister surpass him in size, and acquire cars and college educations. He, however, with an underdeveloped entitlement mentality, has been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been. Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.

But Mr. Will uses the story of Jon to castigate others, others who do not share the same moral beliefs as Mr. Will and who therefore, in Mr. Will’s opinion are inferior.

Jon was born eight months before Roe v. Wade inaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies.

This era has coincided, not just coincidentally, with the full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby. So today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.

We will leave aside Mr. Will's total lack of understanding of the abortion decision that women make.  It is not a casual decision and in almost all cases it is not the destruction of pre-born babies.  But it is a decision that the individual should make, not one that government using its police powers should make for her.

Here Mr. Will uses his own story with Jon as an argument against abortion of children with severe birth defects.  Unfortunately Mr. Will does not seem to understand how unique his own situation is. First of all Down’s Syndrome is not uniform, and while Mr. Will’s son has been able to lead a partially normal life free of pain, many Down’s Syndrome children are sentenced to a horrific life, followed by a slow and agonizing death.  Yet Mr. Will would require children to lead that life in order to impose his own morality on the rest of the nation.

There is also financial and family considerations.  Mr. Will may not be in the top 1% of income, but if not he is very close.  He surely makes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and surely has gold plated health care insurance.  He has the means and resources to care for his son, which is wonderful, but he does not understand the plight of those who cannot give their disabled children the best health care, or the family support that Jon Will’s has received. 

Jon Will has learned to love and enjoy watching major league baseball, and has gotten to go to many games and meet the team.

Two things that have enhanced Jon’s life are the Washington subway system, whichopened in 1976, and the Washington Nationals baseball team, which arrived in 2005. He navigates the subway expertly, riding it to the Nationals ballpark, where he enters the clubhouse a few hours before game time and does a chore or two. The players, who have climbed to the pinnacle of a steep athletic pyramid, know that although hard work got them there, they have extraordinary aptitudes because they are winners of life’s lottery. Major leaguers, all of whom understand what it is to be gifted, have been uniformly and extraordinarily welcoming to Jon, who is not.

This is truly wonderful, but Mr. Will ignores the fact that such a life is not possible for the other 99.9% of children born with a severe birth defect.  Instead of watching major league baseball and enjoying the company of player, they may lives their lives in pain and suffering, institutionalized in inadequate facilities.

The decision to abort a fetus with a birth defect is surely one of the most difficult and painful decisions any family can make.  But that decision, like almost all personal and family decisions  must surely rest with the family and not with government.  That is the only way a society can call itself decent and compassionate and fair. And all of us join Mr. Will in congratulating his son on reaching is 40th birthday.  As a present to him Mr. Will, you might consider not using your son to make political points.


  1. "Instead of watching major league baseball and enjoying the company of player, they may lives their lives in pain and suffering, institutionalized in inadequate facilities."

    "many Down’s Syndrome children are sentenced to a horrific life, followed by a slow and agonizing death."

    Dear Dismal,

    I love your blog, but I despise this post of yours. I honestly hope that one day you get to witness how beautiful and fulfilling the lives of individuals with special needs can be. While Jon does have a lot of privilege others may not, if you're concerned with quality of life, then you should more readily approve the abortion of children in rural Africa, or children born to single parents in America's inner cities, all of whom are statistically more likely experience a difficult, and potentially "horrific" life. Most arguments against having a child with DS, or any other special need, are just covers for an avoidance of inconvenience. Because it may be *hard* to raise a kid with DS, parents avoid it. Parenting is a hardship, but it can also be a joy, and the genetic code of your child is not the end-all-be-all. True, some people legitimately do not have the resources. They should put the child up for adoption -- there are many families who would take on the responsibility the child's parents will not. I am pro-choice, but that doesn't mean I don't think abortion is an awful one to make.

    This is a side comment, but I would love to be able to study the demographics of the women aborting these children and find out their motivations -- this may provide some clarity to this debate.

    1. I think DPE is exactly right. Abortion is legal, and it is a personal decision. The unfortunate economic reality that DPE points out is that these children, especially the severely affected ones, are a financial burden to society unless they are born to wealthy families, and even then they consume public resources especially designated for handicapped citizens--which resources Conservatives seem to want to eliminate! We simply cannot have it all ways.

  2. @ Bouldogboulderer

    Let me clarify my point.

    I agree with your sentiments and am probably very close to your position. But my point is this.

    If a fetus is diagnosed in utero with severe birth defects a decision has to be made as to whether or not to carry the baby to full term. It is my position that the parents are the ones to make that decision, based on the actual conditions of the situation. and in consultation with the medical providers and if appropriate their clergy and counselors.

    Government should not make that decision. For legislators in Washington who do not know the family, do not know the health condition of the fetus, in fact know nothing at all about the situation to impose their decision on citizens is just wrong.

    Mr. Will wants to insert himself through governmental decree into the lives of people he does not know and force them to adhere to what he thinks is appropriate for them. He has no right to do so, and no right to call himself a Conservative for wanting to do so.

    I am not advocating abortion for anyone. I hope all abortions are soon eliminated. But I do advocate that the decision should rest with the individuals involved, and not the government.

  3. bulldogboulderer makes a misconception common to these discussions: confusing endorsement of the right to have an abortion with an endorsement of abortion.

    DPE is saying that parents should have the right to make this decision, and that the decision is more difficult for people who lack Mr. Will's means than Mr. Will would have us believe.