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Alejandro Navas García,, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Disability and schizophrenia

Mon, 27 May 2013 16:11:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

I have had the opportunity to learn about the work carried out by association Síndrome de Down de Navarra. One does not know what to admire more, the selflessness of those responsible for the association or the effort of those affected by the syndrome. In many aspects they suffer from handicaps, but they are gifted in their ability to love and be grateful. The social integration achieved by these people, unimaginable some time ago, is moving.

But when dealing with disability in general, and Down syndrome in particular, we must mention another facet, not so poignant: the elimination of the disabled in the womb, once prenatal diagnosis has established the presence of certain anomalies. These are not serious diseases: they are treatable, such as cleft lip, cleft palate or spina bifida, to mention a few examples. Down syndrome occupies a preferential place in this ranking of death. The Spanish Down Syndrome Federation (Down España) estimates that 90% of diagnosed cases end in miscarriage. What is serious is not that these mothers, perhaps overwhelmed by the result of the amniocentesis, think about abortion when they feel overwhelmed by the status. I find it much more worrying that it is some doctors and nurses who push mothers to have abortions. There is sometimes a kind of interventionist prejudice, institutional harassment by some white coats, pressure to which many mothers succumb. Pregnant Latin American immigrants suffer a real shock when they go to the obstetric enquiry and find that doctors and nurses offer them, as one more option, the possibility of abortion. And if there are indications that point to any pathology in the fetus, there is real coercion. These women, coming from a cultural environment in which motherhood and life are held in high esteem, are perplexed and do not understand that it is precisely the doctor who proposes abortion to them.

The PSOE has gone on the offensive against the government's proposed reform of the abortion law, project , in compliance with its electoral program. The criticism to the governmental purposes, legitimate in any party of civil service examination, stands out in this case for its virulence, and threatens to exceed the limits of the democratic discussion . Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, University Secretary of the PSOE, has called to stop this reform in the streets, to try to prevent it from reaching congress. The abundance of insults and disqualifications, together with the most rancid anti-clerical stereotypes, highlights the scarcity of well-founded arguments. Will we ever be able to debate with a minimum of serenity?

Those of us of a certain age share the same experience: today we hardly see any children with this disability, which was relatively common a few decades ago. They are not seen holding their parents' hands, since the vast majority have been eliminated before birth. And those who have survived are regarded as anomalies: how is it possible that such a child could have been allowed to be born? Could the prenatal diagnosis have failed? We are seeing case law in Europe about lawsuits filed by parents against doctors for having missed the diagnosis and thus "allowing" children to be born with "wrong life". Had they known the extent of these maladies, the parents would have opted for abortion and would not have had to "carry for life" these retarded children. The courts have been giving reason to the plaintiff parents and condemning doctors and hospitals to pay juicy compensations: the sick child is a damage and demands reparation.

Oscar Lopez, spokesman for the PSOE in the City Council of Valladolid, reflects this climate of opinion when he said on Twitter a few days ago: "The PP cuts billions in dependency and forces us to have deformed children. Tremendous combo". The uproar that followed on social networks was monumental. The author initially defended himself by calling those who criticized him fundamentalists, but was finally forced to apologize and delete the tweet.

The Genetics will make it possible to "produce" healthy individuals, and those who escape genetic screening and turn out to be defective will have very little chance of surviving the neonatal withdrawal . Being born will no longer give rights. Society is becoming a closed club, in which the current members decide on the Admissions Office of the candidates. The tragedy of the handicapped is that it is precisely their parents, doctors and authorities who conspire to veto their admission. The imperatives of economic rationalization, i.e. the urgency of reducing skyrocketing healthcare costs, combine with a lack of humanity to attack these disabled people at the very moment when their rights have just been recognized on paper. Is our society becoming schizophrenic?