Andy Crouch, author of the highly reputed new book entitled Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, suggests that the best thing about Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate is that it will increase public exposure to her (and her husband’s) decision to not abort their Down Syndrome baby born several months ago. According to the peer-reviewed journal Prenatal Diagnosis, about 85% of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome elect to terminate the pregnancy. Other studies find that figure exceeding 90%.
What is odd about that statistic, Crouch writes, is that Down Syndrome people (rare as they may be today) are generally happy. Crouch’s closing thoughts:
The fact that this syndrome has become a reason for termination is evidence of the terrible power of culture. A culturally neutral artifact (prenatal diagnosis of congenital diseases) combined with a culturally tragic artifact (elective abortion) begins to make it plausible that parents should avoid the challenges and risks of a Down pregnancy by ending it. The decreasing number of children born with the condition begins to make it more difficult to imagine that “normal” families can absorb the stresses of raising such a child, and undermines public support for public programs that support families who have made that decision. Which, over time, makes carrying a Down Syndrome baby to term ever more inconceivable, leading to increased rates of termination, leading to decreasing plausibility . . . until one day the burden of bringing a Down Syndrome child into the world is seen as so grave that less than 10 percent of parents take the risk.
But Sarah and Todd Palin have done it. I cannot think of any other public figures in my adult life, at least of the prominence they are about to enjoy or endure, who have made this decision. They will cause many, many families to reconsider the horizons of the possible. Their public example could very well lead to a cultural sea change—a dramatic shift in the “horizons of the possible.” That phrase from my book is no metaphor. Those horizons are so real that, for a future generation of children and their parents, they are quite literally a matter of life and death. For this reason, which utterly transcends politics and this year’s election, the sudden prominence of the Palins is, in the deepest sense, an extraordinary act of public service.