Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Four-Month-Old Civil Rights Leader

Michael Gerson, on Down Syndrome:
Trig's moment in the spotlight is a milestone of that movement. But it comes at a paradoxical time. Unlike what is accorded African Americans and women, civil rights protections for people with Down syndrome have rapidly eroded over the past few decades. Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by prenatal testing each year, about 90 percent are eliminated by abortion. Last year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended universal, early testing for Down syndrome -- not just for older pregnant women. Some expect this increased screening to reduce the number of Down syndrome births to something far lower than the 5,500 we see today, perhaps to fewer than 1,000.

The wrenching diagnosis of 47 chromosomes must seem to parents like the end of a dream instead of the beginning of a life. But children born with Down syndrome -- who learn slowly but love deeply -- are generally not experienced by their parents as a curse but as a complex blessing. And when allowed to survive, men and women with an extra chromosome experience themselves as people with abilities, limits and rights. Yet when Down syndrome is detected through testing, many parents report that genetic counselors and physicians emphasize the difficulties of raising a child with a disability and urge abortion.

This is properly called eugenic abortion -- the ending of "imperfect" lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of people who have disabilities. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption -- "Didn't you get an amnio?" -- and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependent are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.

Read the whole thing.

If I may be permitted a quick personal note. My father was a special-ed teacher for decades, and also served for many years as the local director of Special Olympics. I've been to more Special Olympics as a volunteer coach than I could count. My sister is an early-elementary special-ed teacher, mainly working with Downs kids. There are children in my extended family with Downs.

Which is all to say: I've been around people with Downs my entire life.

Downs is a part of this fallen world; it would not exist without the first sin. But virtually ever person I've known with Downs has brought not only unique challenges--but also serious joy--into their family and community. They tend to enjoy, and see the humor, in the little things of life. And they enjoy living.

And 9 out of 10 of them in the womb are now being slaughtered. Even, no doubt, by professing evangelicals.

May God have mercy.