Thursday, 9 February 2012

Ultrasound as Discriminatory Tool?

While browsing the Globe and Mail online the other day (just after I finished watching The Bachelor - I have varied tastes) I came across a very interesting article discussing the use of ultrasound technology to identify whether a fetus is male or female, and the subsequent abortion of female fetuses in some ethnic groups.  The editor in chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal called this practice "discrimination against women in its most extreme form", and I would have to agree.  The editor (and medical doctor) proposes certain measures that could help prevent this "evil" that "devalues women" including the delay of revealing fetal gender until 30 weeks of gestation, and educational programs that would combat the sexist thinking and practices that lead to female feticide.  While this doctor's point of view has been called controversial, it's not the most interesting or controversial part of this particular article.  

The author takes this idea further to question the practice of feticide based on ultrasound identifiable "anomalies" such as cleft palate, missing limbs, spina bifida, and Down syndrome.  While many would agree with the doctor's summation above, citing female feticide as discrimination in an extreme form, these same people may be hard pressed to call abortion of a disabled fetus discrimination against the disabled in its most extreme form.  Thus the provocative title of this article "Why Care Less About the Disabled Fetus?"

I would have called myself pro-choice before reading this article, and I think I still would, but this article raises a very uncomfortable grey area, for me at least.  Are there situations in which choice should be limited, such as in the case of gender selection or anomaly identification?  Who would decide the situations in which choice should be limited?  And just because I know what I would do when faced with an unsettling ultrasound finding, can I judge those who would choose differently?  When it comes down to it, I know the answer to that last question is no. While it feels good to know what the right choice for me is, the reasoning behind calling myself pro-choice is that I can't put myself in someone else's shoes and decide what is best for them, nor can I understand the feelings they will go through after having made a decision for themselves.  

It's a good thing to examine and question our beliefs, even if you end up making the same conclusion come the end of that examination, but the article remains eye opening.  It is very compelling to think that while many people (even those who consider themselves pro-choice) would agree that female feticide is a form of discrimination, when it comes to abortion of a disabled fetus people see it as a more socially acceptable choice for expectant parents to consider.  As the article asks, why do we (seem) to care less about the disabled fetus?

A regular feature titled "Thought Provoking Thursday" perhaps?  Or just more videos of David Beckham in his underwear?  I think I'll continue to stick to the grey area and go for a compromise.  Life is about balance, right?!?


  1. It is discrimination in it's boldest form, I'd say. But to say, "No, you can't abort your baby because it's a girl, but you can abort it if you simply don't want it," doesn't make sense.Are we condemning the act or the thought processes? There's a disconnect there. The end result is always a dead baby. Once we say human life doesn't have value in one situation or way of thinking, it's hard to turn around and say, "Oh wait, but it does in that situation and ideology." Human life either has value or it doesn't. I believe it does. Btw...enjoying your blog!

    1. Thanks! I agree, it's such a slippery slope when we try to determine when and where human life has value. I definitely don't feel it's something for me to decide!

    2. We're all valuable, no matter what stage in our development. Keep up the great writing!