Apology by Bonni Bonnie Ventura
Originally posted on www.aspiesforfreedom.com
It is with deep regret that I tender my resignation today. When I began my work in the field of autism genetic research, I felt very fortunate to be able to pursue my lifelong interest in neuroscience. I hoped to make a substantial contribution to the public health by identifying genetic markers that would enable the development of a prenatal test and, ultimately, the worldwide eradication of autism.
I threw myself into my work with a passion, intent upon making my mark on history. I spent many long days and nights in the laboratory, engrossed in my analysis of biological samples from autistic subjects. A great sense of urgency seemed to surround the work, as autism statistics were continually revised upward, with some estimates of the global autistic population as high as 60 million. I could think of little else.
One by one, the most common genetic markers were identified, by my team and others. Clinical trials were scheduled, the next step in evaluating the accuracy of the genetic test for autism that I had worked so diligently to develop. I proceeded to collect DNA samples from a group of diagnosed autistic subjects and, by way of comparison, also obtained samples from a control group of non-autistic individuals. I contributed a sample of my own DNA to the control group. As was customary, each sample was assigned a number.
The test proved to be extremely accurate, identifying the autistic subjects with near-perfect effectiveness. I noticed an anomalous result, however. One sample from the control group tested positive for all of the markers, a result that could not be expected to occur by chance.
Perhaps the sample had been misidentified somehow, or the analysis had been performed incorrectly? I looked at the identifying number and found that it was the number assigned to my own sample. Although I could not imagine how such an error had occurred, it seemed easy enough to correct. I took another sample of my DNA and repeated the test on the new sample.
The result was the same.
I went over the data for the next several hours, wondering what could have gone wrong with the test procedures, checking again and again but still finding no discrepancies, until the obvious and inescapable explanation finally sank into my mind: I am autistic.
In retrospect, the signs were not hard to see: my obsessive fascination with my work, my preference for hard facts and statistics instead of soft fuzzy social concerns?even little things, like my habit of rocking gently in my chair when preoccupied with solving a complex problem.
The discovery overwhelmed me. All at once the familiar surroundings of my laboratory seemed almost to be alien territory, the lights harsh, the walls confining. I went outside for a walk, trying to clear my mind of its turmoil. Cool air touched my face. The first glimmerings of dawn appeared on the horizon.
I turned the night’s events over and over in my mind as I paced. So many of my longstanding assumptions had been shaken. I had always thought of myself as a very fortunate man, intellectually superior, gifted with many abilities of great value to society. Now I had to face the fact that I belonged to a minority group seen by society as mentally disordered, tragically defective, an intolerable burden.
A minority group that I had made it my business to exterminate.
It was not the chill of the early morning air that made me shiver. As I started on my way home, I began mentally composing this letter of resignation while the landscape slipped by almost unseen. At first, I wanted to say that I did not understand what I was doing, that none of us truly understood the implications of our acts when we took it upon ourselves to judge millions of human beings unfit to inhabit the world.
Even as I sought to claim the comfort of ignorance, however, I knew that it could not absolve me of moral responsibility for what I had helped to set in motion. The research continues, and a prenatal test for the genetic markers associated with autism will be made available in the near future. Barring a sea change in social attitudes, it will result in the deaths of large numbers of children who are very much like me. No apology or excuse suffices.
May God forgive me; history will not.