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Doctors: Don't Want No Short People 'Round Here
Is small stature a reason to abort?
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Dateline 7/5/00

In the wake of a controversial late-abortion case in Australia, a poll found that obstetricians support killing fetuses with dwarfism. When Randy Newman sang, "Short people got no reason to live," he was joking. These guys are for real. They're not joking.

Up to 13 weeks of pregnancy, the support for aborting babies with dwarfism was 100%. In later pregnancy, 24 weeks, support for aborting a baby because he or she would be a dwarf fell to 14%. But among clinical specialists who diagnose dwarfism, even at 24 weeks, support for aborting these children remained high, at over 70%.

The poll was taken after publicity over the case of a 40-year-old woman who threatened suicide if she couldn't have her 32-week fetus aborted because of potential dwarfism. After consults with three doctors, she was delivered of a dead baby.

The poll checked obstetrician and geneticist support for abortion based on a variety of conditions, ranging from cleft palate to Down syndrome.

Dr John McKie, a lecturer at the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, said his only objection would be if proper procedures were not followed. "I would not see anything ethically wrong. The woman counts for more than the foetus."

Interestingly enough, little discussion is being given to the proper treatment for depression in pregnant women, or screening abortion patients for risk factors. This woman was exhibiting several well-known risk factors for post-abortion psychiatric trouble:

Was this woman's depression treated? The standard care for suicidal ideation includes an assessment of the risk that the patient will attempt suicide, and, if necessary, hospitalization to protect the patient until the crisis is over. If this woman's coping skills were so poor that she was creating a chaotic atmosphere with her demands for an abortion and her threats of suicide, why was she not checked into a psychiatric unit and stabilized on medications before proceeding? Why does the fact that she was pregnant override all other considerations in treating her depression?

Coverage of the story indicates that the doctors involved were suspended. However, the press is treating this as a case of the woman's right to abortion versus the fetus' right to live regardless of how tall he or she will grow up to be. The right of the woman to recieve adequate psychiatric care is brushed off with a mention that a phsychiatrist was involved in the decision to proceed with the abortion.

Even less discussion is devoted to the kind of prejudice this woman exhibited by insisting that she'd choose death over allowing a small-statured child to be born. How much progress can we as a society have made in overcoming prejudice against the differently-bodied if nobody expresses shock that small stature is considered adequate reason to kill an infant that could have been delivered live and placed for adoption?

Little People of America facilitates the placement of children with dwarfism in adopive homes. For more information about helping dwarf children find loving homes, visit LPA.

More links:

Treating Depression in Pregnancy
From About Depression Guide Nancy Schimelpfening

Identifying High-Risk Abortion Patients
A summary of research on poor outcome for abortion.

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