Right Opinion

The Sensitivity Police Strike Again

George Will · Dec. 4, 2016

The word “inappropriate” is increasingly used inappropriately. It is useful to describe departures from good manners or other social norms, such as wearing white after Labor Day or using the salad fork with the entree. But the adjective has become a splatter of verbal fudge, a weasel word falsely suggesting measured seriousness. Its misty imprecision does not disguise, it advertises, the user’s moral obtuseness.

A French court has demonstrated how “inappropriate” can be an all-purpose device of intellectual evasion and moral cowardice. The court said it is inappropriate to do something that might disturb people who killed their unborn babies for reasons that were, shall we say, inappropriate.

Prenatal genetic testing enables pregnant women to be apprised of a variety of problems with their unborn babies, including Down syndrome. It is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect that causes varying degrees of mental disability and some physical abnormalities, such as low muscle tone, small stature, flatness of the back of the head and an upward slant to the eyes. Within living memory, Down syndrome people were called Mongoloids.

Now they are included in the category called “special needs” people. What they most need is nothing special. It is for people to understand their aptitudes, and to therefore quit killing them in utero.

Down syndrome, although not common, is among the most common congenital anomalies at 49.7 per 100,000 births. In approximately 90 percent of instances when prenatal genetic testing reveals Down syndrome, the baby is aborted. Cleft lips or palates, which occur in 72.6 per 100,000 births, also can be diagnosed in utero and sometimes are the reason a baby is aborted.

In 2014, in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), the Global Down Syndrome Foundation prepared a two-minute video titled “Dear Future Mom” to assuage the anxieties of pregnant women who have learned that they are carrying a Down syndrome baby. More than 7 million people have seen the video online in which one such woman says, “I’m scared: what kind of life will my child have?” Down syndrome children from many nations tell the woman that her child will hug, speak, go to school, tell you he loves you and “can be happy, just like I am — and you’ll be happy, too.”

The French state is not happy about this. The court has ruled that the video is — wait for it — “inappropriate” for French television. The court upheld a ruling in which the French Broadcasting Council banned the video as a commercial. The court said the video’s depiction of happy Down syndrome children is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

So, what happens on campuses does not stay on campuses. There, in many nations, sensitivity bureaucracies have been enforcing the relatively new entitlement to be shielded from whatever might disturb, even inappropriate jokes. And now this rapidly metastasizing right has come to this: A video that accurately communicates a truthful proposition — that Down syndrome people can be happy and give happiness — should be suppressed because some people might become ambivalent, or morally queasy, about having chosen to extinguish such lives because …

This is why the video giving facts about Down syndrome people is so subversive of the flaccid consensus among those who say aborting a baby is of no more moral significance than removing a tumor from a stomach. Pictures persuade. Today’s improved prenatal sonograms make graphic the fact that the moving fingers and beating heart are not mere “fetal material.” They are a baby. Toymaker Fisher-Price, children’s apparel manufacturer OshKosh, McDonald’s and Target have featured Down syndrome children in ads that the French court would probably ban from television.

The court has said, in effect, that the lives of Down syndrome people — and by inescapable implication, the lives of many other disabled people — matter less than the serenity of people who have acted on one or more of three vicious principles: That the lives of the disabled are not worth living. Or that the lives of the disabled are of negligible value next to the desire of parents to have a child who has no special, meaning inconvenient, needs. Or that government should suppress the voices of Down syndrome children in order to guarantee other people’s right not to be disturbed by reminders that they have made lethal choices on the basis of one or both of the first two inappropriate principles.

© 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

Click here to show comments