The illusion of choice. . .   2 comments

Honestly, I am overwhelmed by this reading assignment’s depth and breadth. Rapp comments, sometimes rather editorially, on such a range of issues that I hadn’t even considered overtly connected to medical technology that I am stymied.

Rapp claims that she began, after choosing to end a pregnancy when Down’s Syndrome was diagnosed, searching for “contextualized knowledge” (318). Presumably, she sought this contextualization because she realized through her own experience the kind of “moral pioneering” that was necessary when making her own very personal but highly culturally and socially dependent choice. She realized that honestly navigating this complex territory has really been left to alternative epistemologies to which little “academic/scholarly” attention has been paid. The context she sought and consequently provides in her work is related to women’s ways of knowing.

Though I made the choice to have the optional but highly recommended blood test to predict the possibility of Down’s Syndrome and Spina Bifida, I never thought about “how” I came to that decision. What was my process? As someone who has said, like many of the pregnant women documented by Rapp, “It is better to know than not to know,” I never really thought about why I might think that or why I refused to speculate about what I might choose to do if given news that I would have a disabled child. I just hoped not to face that decision.

While I chose to test, I have a friend (pregnant at the same time) who chose not to even do the blood test, and her decision seemed simple: “You get what you get.” This is a phrase that I use with my 4 year old, when she wants me to pick out only the yellow skittles because they are her favorite. Rapp does well in pointing out that these decisions can seem simple because of the catch phrases, but that they are based on a complex system of socialized and enculturated “reasoning.”

How do women make these decisions? The answer seems to be that women navigate these decisions through a web of scientific pseudo-knowledge, cultural expectations, social expectations, and gendered expectations which alter the very meaning of individual choice. We, specifically Americans, consider empowerment and individuality to be essential elements of our humanity. We seem to want women to feel empowered by these predictive technologies–empowered enough to make a decision for ourselves regarding the continuation or termination of a pregnancy, but we don’t seem interested in providing an appropriate framework or contextualization for these decisions. Though women have been navigating this territory forever, it is not part of our popular culture to make available a network of knowledge based on female experience, choice, and subjectivity because it is seen as somehow less than the networked knowledge of bio-medical professionals, religious and political “experts.”

In Rapp’s exploration of alternative epistemologies, she forces us to consider those who feel compelled toward a default; they can take comfort in not choosing, in abdicating to a higher authority (patriarchy, religious tenants). Before reading Rapp, I might have shallowly considered these women to be at a loss, but really facing up to the content in chapter 9 makes me see the appeal of abdicating responsibility for a decision that has the potential to be so very devastating. Though I see the appeal, I would continue to appeal to those in positions of authority (this sometimes means husbands/potential fathers) to consider their limits in knowing what is good and right for women and children. . . to consider the value of women’s ways of knowing and the power of choice.

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Posted September 28, 2010 by jenwojton in Uncategorized

2 responses to “The illusion of choice. . .

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  1. Jen says, “How do women make these decisions? The answer seems to be that women navigate these decisions through a web of scientific pseudo-knowledge, cultural expectations, social expectations, and gendered expectations which alter the very meaning of individual choice.”

    I would add in the issue of “fear.” Many women get the test done because they fear the possibilities of birth defects (and perhaps want fair warning), but women often avoid the test for fear as well, such as a women who fears that getting the test and hearing the results somehow makes it happen. You get a similar line of reasoning from people who say they don’t want to go to the doctor because then they’ll get sick.

    My wife and I decided not to get the amniocentesis done, and that too was based on a sort of fear–the fear of misdiagnosis. Mandy had read of numerous examples where a family was given a false positive (told there were genetic defects when there were none). The family had to deal with all the emotional impact of that news for months until the child was born. In our case, it didn’t really matter what the results said anyway; we would have the child no matter what, so the fear of a false positive outweighed the knowing.

  2. “We seem to want women to feel empowered by these predictive technologies–…but we don’t seem interested in providing an appropriate framework or contextualization for these decisions. Though women have been navigating this territory forever, it is not part of our popular culture to make available a network of knowledge based on female experience, choice, and subjectivity because it is seen as somehow less than the networked knowledge of bio-medical professionals, religious and political “experts.” ”

    Somehow the medical issues surrounding women, from the pill to abortion to amnio, are highly politicized. This prevents the focus from being on ways of knowing or the creation of a body of knowledge because the focus is instead of the ‘what do Democrats–or Republicans–or Baptists–or the Pope–or commentators on CNN and FOX’ believe about this issue despite their agendas and lack of medical knowledge.

    Elle

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