Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Why shouldn't I be allowed to have a child who looks like me? Everybody else can."

In the Law and Order SVU episode "Inconceivable", Detectives are investigating the theft of a group of embryos from a clinic. In the list of subjects they compiled was a dwarf named Jocelyn Miller (played by Meredith Eaton Gilden) who the detectives interviewed for a more detailed motive and means to do it. Prior to the theft, she had given her eggs to the clinic for embryo development. They were made, and when she screened them, she had made an uproar at the clinic. Her embryos being part of the group that was stolen, Detective Fin Tutuola and Det. Chester Lake questioned her about the nature of her screening and argument with the doctors, and this conversation followed:

Jocelyn: It's humane to get rid of the defective ones. Babies born with homozygous achondroplasia usually die within a year. Their tiny chest cages cause constriction, resulting in respiratory distress. It's a nasty death.
Fin: That's what you were screening for?
Jocelyn: We [her and her husband] had a little girl named Rose who had it. She died in my arms.
Chester: I am so sorry.
Jocelyn: My husband is also a dwarf, which gives us a 25% chance of having a baby with the condition.
Fin: So you had them weed out the embryos with the death sentence attached?
Jocelyn: I donated them to research.
Chester: Sounds like the clinic helped, but we heard you caused a disturbance.
Jocelyn: Yea, after all of that, my doctor refused to implant one of my healthy embryos.
Fin: He refused to implant because of your size?
Jocelyn: No, because of babies. He wanted to use an embryo that would become what you call "normal" size. I wanted an LP.
Chester: LP? Little person.
Fin: You wanted to purposely create a child with a disability?
Jocelyn: Size is not a disability. We have normal lifespans and lives. Why shouldn't I be allowed to have a child who looks like me? Everybody else can.
Jocelyn: I think someone would have noticed if the thief was 4 foot one.

This was a great episode, but this scene stuck out in my memory the most.

What's the prevailing approach that decides the baby's fate?

Yes, the doctor has the ability to make the baby "normal-sized", and not to live as a possible outcast amongst society. He could be trying to save the child the burden of all the possible ridicule Jocelyn has suffered, but he neglects and hurts Jocelyn's pride in the process. But, as Jocelyn clears up for Det. Fin, having small stature is not necessarily a disability. The public chooses to view dwarfs this way. To ridicule them and treat them like they're some sort of rejected drawings God threw away in pursuing the perfect picture of man. A doctor who is possibly too conscious of widely-held opinion would try to push something like that on to Jocelyn.

I see something a bit noble in Jocelyn wanting to continue her family line as it is. Having small-stature is not what she chose for herself, but it is what she is. She realizes that she has plenty to offer to humanity regardless of how small she is, and her child will too. However, this can also be construed as selfishness, bringing unwarranted and easily-avoided ridicule onto her child in the future.

At the end of it all, both of these opinions are morally null and void, since it should really be up to the person (baby) to be who they want. Of course, an embryo cannot pick this for themselves, so they'll inevitably be subject to some kind of existential guilt (being a normal sized person ashamed of their parents) or embarrassment and anger (being an LP and being outcast) at some point in their life. It is for these people that I pray they have the strength and faith to go on.


  1. But the question is will they be subject to guilt / embarassment / anger - or is that just our perception of what they must be undergoing? We can never know the advantages and disadvantages of one life or another. My friend who is an identical twin always used to be asked, "what is it like to have a twin?". She used to say - "how would i know - what's it like to not have one??"

    Studies have also found that "happiness" and "contentment" of those with some types of disabilities (i.e. parapalegics) are actually, on average, *higher* than the everyday person. There are lessons to be learned in every state of humanity -- who knows, where the greater gift lies???

    Good posting - generated some interesting thoughts.

  2. The Clandestine SamuraiJune 25, 2008 at 8:03 AM

    Advantages and disadvantages, yeah, that's also true.

  3. Don't Feed The PixiesJune 26, 2008 at 5:25 AM

    This is such a far reaching question that i don't think there's an easy answer. There is an argument to say that a couple with a known disease in the family should be allowed screening if that disease is likely to cause fatality in the baby - but does that extend to being allowed to chose the height, sex and status of a child. Does this extend to making us have the power of god?

    What about racists who only want to have a blonde, blue-eyed boy, or asian families who may have their pregancy terminated if it is a girl?

    There was a case recently where a deaf lesbian couple chose to have a deaf baby because they thought they would have more in common and more to offer the child - but were they being selfish in denying the hearing child they could have had?

  4. I think (and damn does this post make me think) that we think too much about these things.

    I think that until we are in the situation we have no right to comment on it.

    Its sort of like straight christian people saying homosexuality is wrong. How can they say that unless they have experienced it.

    At the same time I think it is immoral to knowingly burden a child with a disability it did not need to have. The deaf lesbians are selfish in my opinion and definitely did not have their child's best interest at heart.

  5. thought provoking post, jason! a very contentious ethical/moral/philospohical - and many other words ending in 'al' i can think of - issue.
    what this brings to mind is the difficulties and, oftentimes backlash, that new parents face if they DO decide to do any kind of genetic screening, i'm thinking esp. of down syndrome. (and you can read a little about what i'm getting at here www.campaignfordownsyndrome.blogspot.com)

    i have to agree with honour on this one. i have an amazing friend...who was born "different". she is the most positive and energetic woman i know, and i have so much to learn from her, i can't even begin to explain how much she has taught me, just being who she is.

  6. This is a good question. When it comes to serious diseases, then I think we should think an extra time, before we decide to keep the baby. When the diseases are a threat to the baby itself I mean.

    As people here before me have said, is it right to screen the baby just because it has disabilities? I'm not sure it is. People with one missing chromosome, could actually live a decent live and find happiness. I mean, we who have the "normal" numbers of chromosomes can sometimes think too much and therefore we are more able to be unhappy. Many of the people I'm working with who have different disabilities, seem to be happy, and there is an obvious reason. They have less worries than we do, cause they don't think that much about difficulties in life. Life is much easier for them.

  7. I can't claim to have thought this out with any great degree of seriousness, but I find something disturbing in Jocelyn Miller's decisions. She is trying to create a designer baby, which I suspect is what the creators of the episode want us to think.

    Incidentally, I suspect this issue works better as a discussion here and would work better on paper than it did on television. The dialogue you quoted, while raising issues of high importance, does not work as dialogue. It's an information dump; people don't talk that way. I mention this because I've cited Law & Order: Special Victims Unit before for this lapse. With no other way to convey the information, the makers of the show have to cram it uncomfortably and unnaturally into the mouths of characters. I first raised the issue on my blog as an example of an area in which print is superior to film or television.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"


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