CBS News reported earlier this week that Iceland is leading the world in “eradicating Down syndrome births.” One might be forgiven for assuming that Iceland has developed an innovative treatment for the chromosomal disorder. It turns out Iceland’s solution is much simpler, and much more sinister: using prenatal testing and abortion to systematically exterminate children with Down syndrome. This isn’t progress; it’s eugenics. Prenatal testing is optional in Iceland, but the government mandates that doctors notify women of that option. About 85 percent of expectant mothers undergo the test, and close to 100 percent of those women choose to abort if their child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Just two children with Down syndrome are born in Iceland each year, often as the result of faulty testing. The CBS article does little to accord this subject the moral gravity it deserves. “Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates,” the authors note casually. CBS News’s tweet promoting the story read simply: “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”
But Iceland isn’t “eliminating Down syndrome” at all. It’s eliminating people. The callous tone of the piece makes selective abortion sound like a technological innovation rather than what it really is: the intentional targeting of “unfit” persons for total elimination. What kind of culture does it require to foster such a mindset, to foster a society in which nearly every mother of a Down-syndrome child chooses to abort? Iceland is at the high end of the spectrum in this regard — and was one of the first countries to normalize widespread prenatal testing, in an effort to identify fetal abnormalities and eliminate them through abortion — but it is far from alone. Ninety percent of women in the United Kingdom who receive a positive Down-syndrome diagnosis choose to abort. In the U.S., that percentage falls somewhere between 67 and 90, according to a recent meta-study of Down-syndrome termination rates over the last few decades. In Europe as a whole, somewhere around 92 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. This targeting of individuals with Down syndrome is borne out not just in astronomical abortion rates, but in a cultural attitude that often regards them as less than human.