Patricia Heaton: ‘Iceland isn’t eliminating Down syndrome—they are just killing everyone who has it.’
I was taken aback when I read the CBS News tweet that stated, “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.” But as I tweeted on Aug. 14, the country was not, in fact, eliminating Down syndrome. They were just killing everyone who has it.
Not only was the tweet scientifically inaccurate, it did not really reflect the accompanying story. Yes, close to 100 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in Iceland are, horrifically, aborted. But some of the people interviewed in the piece did not seem 100 percent sure it was the right thing to do. The hospital that performs all abortions in Iceland has a special room for the procedure and acknowledges the killing by giving the aborted child’s mother a “prayer” card that lists the baby’s sex and weight, along with the child’s footprints.
The birth of any child is going to bring great change to the parents’ lives; this is all the more true when it is a child with a disability. Whether that change is going to be seen as positive or negative often depends on how the news is delivered. Many parents have complained that doctors tend to paint an extremely dire picture when counseling parents upon discovering they are pregnant with a Down syndrome son or daughter. Mark Lawrence Schrad, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and a self-described pro-choice liberal, describes what he and his wife faced when waiting to hear if their daughter would be born with Down syndrome. “Hammering home the momentous difficulties that would await us as parents was clearly a tactical move by the doctor to push us toward an abortion,” Mr. Schrad wrote.
The birth of any child is going to bring great change to the parents’ lives; this is all the more true when it is a child with a disability.
This is despite the fact that not only do people with Down syndrome report having a very high level of satisfaction with their lives, but their siblings feel they are better people for having a family member with Down syndrome.
While countries like Iceland are praised for their state-funded health care, the struggle to keep costs down creates an environment in which those who choose to give birth to a Down syndrome child may be considered selfish for using up precious resources. More recently, the Dutch Ministry of Health published a list of the 10 most expensive diseases, with Down syndrome at the top.
Fortunately, families and people with Down syndrome are speaking up and sharing their experiences. Karen Gaffney is one of those people. Her Down syndrome did not prevent her from swimming the English Channel, and she is a compelling speaker—her TED Talk is a must-see. The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a public nonprofit “dedicated to significantly improving the lives of people with Down syndrome through research, medical care, education and advocacy.” There is also the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, whose mission is to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome and to eradicate the ill effects associated it.
Fortunately, families and people with Down syndrome are speaking up and sharing their experiences.
Finally, as Christians, we must always engage in this battle by being a voice for the voiceless and taking seriously Christ’s command to care for the least among us. In a world where we are daily conditioned to expect an environment that caters to our every need and desire, we must remind ourselves that the value of our lives and the lives of others is based not on material wealth or accomplishments but on the intrinsic worth we all possess as human beings created by God and in his image. As St. John Paul II said, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members, and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.”
The morning after I posted the tweet, my feed started to explode in the most positive and joyful way. Not only did I receive thanks and encouragement, but followers started posting pictures of their beautiful and very loved children with Down syndrome. It was a deeply hopeful display of true humanity—the loving spirit of inclusivity that regards all lives as precious incarnations of our Creator, worthy of love and entitled to life.