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The Politics of Amniocentesis

I was reading People magazine the other day, and it got me thinking about the following question:

Why would an expectant mother have amniocentesis performed?

Far and away, the most important reason for doing amniocentesis must be that knowing there are abnormalities early provides the option to get an abortion.

The reason I was thinking about this question is that Sarah Palin underwent amniocentesis; I generally wouldn’t expect someone with her views on abortion to do so, given that, presumably, she would not view abortion as an option.

And indeed, when the test revealed that the baby had Down syndrome, she did not choose to abort. (On the question of Down syndrome and abortion, see also this earlier blog post.)

So what other reason would lead you to undergo amniocentesis?

I guess knowing you have a Down syndrome baby well in advance could be useful for planning. What’s strange, if Palin’s reason for doing the test was early planning, is that she kept not only the Down syndrome news a secret from her own children, but even the pregnancy itself. “Not knowing in my own heart if I was going to be ready to embrace a child with special needs … I couldn’t talk about it,” she said.

She hid the Down syndrome news even after the children were told of the pregnancy. When the baby was born, 14-year-old Willow commented, “He looks like he has Down syndrome.”

Palin’s response: “If he does, you know you will still love him, Willow. It’ll be okay.”

I find all of this incredibly strange. If knowing that the baby had Down syndrome gave Palin the time she needed to embrace the child’s special needs, wouldn’t you think that time would also have been valuable to her children for the same reason? And even after the baby is born, and Willow sees the baby has Down syndrome, the mother is still describing the situation in terms of “if he does,” when she knows the actual truth. Her explanation was that she didn’t know how to break the news.

As a parent, perhaps I err too much on the side of being honest with my kids about things. All my children were raised knowing that their older brother Andrew had died, how he died, when he died, etc. The same is true with respect to the fact that two of my daughters were adopted. When my wife catches me watching shows like COPS with the kids, she makes me change the channel, but I’ve always thought there is value in children knowing something about how the world really is.

I can understand how people would disagree with me: letting an 8-year-old watch COPS may very well be a terrible idea. But can it possibly be a good idea to hide from a 17-year-old or a 14-year-old that their new brother will have Down syndrome?

And can “not knowing how to break the news” possibly be a justifiable rationale for withholding that information?