Social and Pastoral BulletinNo. 87Dec. 15, 1998
Kitahara Takashi (Jesuit Anthropologist)

I lectured this year on the merits and demerits of medical diagnosis during pregnancy at Sophia University and Notre Dame Sacred Heart Women's College. (For reference, please take a look at the article "Genetic Screening: A New Form of Discrimination?" of this Bulletin, n.81). After the lectures, the students wrote a short report expressing their opinions on how to diminish the demerits of diagnosis during pregnancy. It was hard for me to go through hundreds of reports, but I learned many things from the young students. I will pick up here some main points from the reports of the students at Notre Dame Sacred Heart Women's College.

"The main demerit is that, if as a consequence of the diagnosis some abnormality is found, there is danger of abortion... Is the right to live decided out of the existence or of the absence of a handicap? The second concerns the sense of social alienation of the mother and her family, because human society does not try to accept the disabled. A different demerit will be that, by the diagnosis of the handicap, there is danger that the value of the human person gets diminished.

The problem is clear. Society is the main issue surrounding medical diagnosis during pregnancy. Although difficult, the reform of the attitudes of society towards disabled people will be the most efficient way to stop the demerits of diagnosis during the pregnancy period."

When I started to write this report I was, both, at a loss and furious. Why do people look in a special way at the disabled? I feel pity for a society that creates such a situation. Although I think I am myself objective in expressing my opinion, I may be also standing by the side of those who discriminate against the disabled.

Most probably, genetic screening is not going to disappear in the future. The reason is that, since it is a free selection, it is a means people with selfish human rights vision use. There is no need to stop the diagnosing. Once more and more people know what happens as a result of the diagnosis, little by little, efforts should be made to improve it."
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"According to my opinion, even in case of a newborn disabled child, genetic screening is useful when the parents make a decision to accept that child in their own family. There is time left for preparing themselves before the child is born; there are cases when a premature treatment produces good results and prevention of disability might still be possible.

....After all, persons are free to have or not to have medical diagnosis during pregnancy. I thought it was important to have access to good counseling, no matter what decision one makes with regard to the diagnosis. Parents should know exactly before making a decision."


"I can not condemn a person who had an abortion, because she was not confident about raising a disabled child, a very heavy task, specially once she understands she is going to give birth to child with a handicap. On the other hand, if our society did not make it so hard to raise a handicapped child, and if it were not such a difficult society for people with handicaps to live, in my opinion mothers will not think about aborting their own children...It is not a matter for society to change, rather, people living in such a society do change it. When many more people know and deepen their understanding about the disabled, and when people are able to organize society so that the handicapped themselves can easily live there, then I think that the demerits of diagnosis can be kept to a minimum."


"The expression "medical diagnosis during pregnancy" was new to me. I did not feel any prejudice at the time I heard it, and I just accepted it as something useful.
.... I imagined myself pregnant and been told that, the medical examination showed that the child was disabled. To be honest, although this is just fiction, I can not say for sure at this moment that I will give birth....We should make a society free of prejudices, where people are able to deal with the disabled, although I know that this can not be done immediately and time is required. I still feel within myself a kind of a wall, with regard to persons with disabilities, and before I have a baby I want to become an excellent person who knows how precious life is, and who is able to deal with people without prejudices."


A radical solution would be to refuse having a diagnosis, or in case one has it, to limit it at those who want to give birth in spite of the possibility of a handicap. There are merits involved in the diagnosis and those should also be respected. There is a strong tendency these days to consider an adversity to have a handicapped child, and I think that the first step to change such a situation is that an increasing number of pregnant mothers give birth naturally to disabled children. But so this can happen, society should be totally prepared to accept them. There is still a big gap there. From now on, families with handicapped children and society must dialogue, because unless they listen to each other and come closer together, a final solution is not going to be found."
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Reading these written opinions I noticed several key points that might be useful in teaching bioethics to attract the interest and understanding of young people today.

  1. Many students point out that social prejudices are the cause of risks in genetic screening. They indicate there is need at the time of diagnosis for doctors to explain in detail the content of the diagnosis and to provide counseling with right information. Nevertheless, in fact, such information and guidance are totally lacking.
  2. Almost all the students stress the need of suitable support for the parents of the handicapped children. There is an urgent need to demand measures so that society accepts the disabled, like employment facilities and educational institutions where the handicapped and other children can get to know each other while studying together.
  3. A number of student make an appeal to the fact that parents, by giving consent to the birth of disabled children, are already paving the way to make changes in the social prejudices existing today with regard to the disabled. They point out that, on the contrary, the abortion of a handicapped foetus leads as a result to stronger discrimination. It is interesting to notice that among the reasons given to oppose abortion, those students who complain against a discriminatory treatment of the disabled are more than those who say that it is a denial of the respect for human life.
  4. Quite a few students mentioned their experiences with the disabled which made them change their opinions with regard to handicapped children. Those personal experiences are valuable.
Such were my impressions in reading the reports of the students. It will be an unexpected blessing to me if teachers of religion or ethics could find hints here to attract the interest and understanding of young people to such issues.For further contacts:
Kitahara Takashi
Fax. 03-5991-6928