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.

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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.

Bill Collier
1 week 2 days ago

Thanks to Ms. Heaton for her comments about the systematic destruction Down syndrome fetuses face in Iceland (and in many other societies the world over). We’ve become selfish in the worst connotation of that word, and those who counsel women to abort their Down syndrome fetuses further devalue human life in a culture that increasingly has little tolerance for human beings who do not satisfy subjective notions of the perfect.

Dolores Pap
1 week 2 days ago

Bill, I've worked with special needs, including Down syndrome kids for almost twenty years, and the problem is you don't know the level of involvement until that baby is born. I had a Down syndrome brother who was the sweetest little boy, but I have also seen many other Down kids that would be near impossible to raise without a great deal of help and money, and even then, it can be a true hardship. I couldn't do it. I would never judge a woman who would abort a Down syndrome fetus.

rose-ellen caminer
1 week 2 days ago

So one is justified to kill "problem" humans in the womb? I don't get how a Christian who believes we are created by and in the image of a good God, or a person who believes in human rights can justify killing for the sole reason that the continued existence of a human is a burden to another person. Equality, universal human rights, a person is not an object but a subject etc., blah blah blah; all the enlightenment beliefs we arrived at as a humanistic civilization, goes by the way side when it comes to unborn "problem" humans?

Tim Donovan
1 week 2 days ago

Hello, Dolores. I worked as a Special Education teacher for six years with children who were brain. damaged, and some of whom were physically disabled or had behavioral disorders. I also worked with disabled adults in different capacities for more than 20 years. I found my work to be both challenging and enjoyable. Several of the disabled adults that I knew or worked with had Down Syndrome. I agree that caring for any one who is either disabled or elderly and with a serious illness can be difficult, but I think we should, both as individuals and as a society , care for both in practical ways and by the enactment of laws to protect both innocent unborn human beings as well as elderly disabled or ill people. As Ms. Heaton noted, even a so-called "pro-choice" liberal felt that when his wife was pregnant, that the doctor was biased in favor of abortion for unborn Down Syndrome babies. I was for most of my life a registered Democrat, but though I often disagree with policies held typically by Republicans, I believe that protecting the innocent unborn from the violence of legal abortion is of paramount importance. Although I disagreed with my friend's sister when she had an abortion years ago, I don't have "" hateful" feelings towards her. Our government as well as the numerous alternative -to-abortion centers must do all they can to provide compassionate, practical care for pregnant women in difficult situations. I do belie that as Americans that we shouldn't discriminate against people because of their disability, whether by our words or actions (killing those who are disabled, either before or after birth). I live in a nursing home/ rehabilitation center, and while I am in generally good health, many of my fellow residents and friends need alot of care. I hope that more funds will be allocated for the care of vulnerable and otherwise often unwanted human beings. I know that there are many people in both our nation (and world) who need care, but Jesus said that we will be judged by how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters.

Bill Collier
1 week 1 day ago

Dolores, we have a family member with a genetic disorder. It’s not Down Syndrome, but many of the manifestations of the disorder are similar to DS. While true that it hasn’t been easy for the parents of the now 30-year old family member, the parents never gave any thought to terminating the pregnancy. Luckily, there is an extended family that has been able to provide assistance over the years. You raise a good point that there is sometimes significant hardship in the care and raising of such children, but I don’t think that aborting DS fetuses is the answer. Until we as a society recognize the intrinsic worth and dignity of each and every human being, and work for social policies that recognize and protect such intrinsic value, abortion will likely be the default choice for many faced with the prospect of so-called less than perfect children. Remember the furor several years ago about the aborting of female fetuses, primarily in the Third World where in some cultures girls are considered a burden? In China, for example, so many girl fetuses were being aborted under the official one-child policy that it was predicted that there would be social unrest in the country as males competed for the the smaller group of available women. There are certainly many problems to resolve regarding genetic diseases and overpopulation,but I don’t see abortion as any kind of solution.

Charlie Fien
1 week 1 day ago

Dolores Your post is irrelevant since the majority of countries where Down Syndrome is being eradicated have National Health like my country England. Families here receive a lot of support, free medical care and financial help. They get respite care as well for a break in care. You death lovers aka pro choice people disgust me. Murder is your solution to everything. The most costly expense to any government is caring for drug addicts, criminals and people in prison. No one is suggesting eradicating criminals are they? Dolores, can you please stop saying Down people or Down kids? Its very offensive and no one says that anymore.

Renate Lindeman
1 week 1 day ago

Dear Dolores, "the problem is you don't know the level of involvement until that baby is born." Isn't that the case for every single baby that is born? That you just don't know? Parents should be aware that no guarantee comes with a newborn. Any newborn. This culture of pick and choose, and kill if it is not genetically perfect needs to be halted. It will not stop at Down syndrome nor will it stop at abortion. In the Netherlands and Belgium it is legal to 'euthanize' a disabled child upto 12 months (Groningen protocol). The world has been down this path before, not so long ago, and that didn't end well. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/die-euthanasie-kinder_us_588f504ae…

Tim O'Leary
1 week ago

Great article. The following quote is telling: "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." This reveals the knowledge all around that it is a human being that is being killed (why would one have a prayer room with sex and weight if it was only tissue?). If only the self-identifying Catholic Democrats (Pelosi, Kaine, etc.) would own up to this, they might have an epiphany.

Teresa Armstrong
1 week ago

Healthcare, Medicaid, SSI help parents, guardians, etc care for our citizens with disabilities. These things help with the numerous financial, medical, and emotional challenges that are unavoidable when caring for a person with a disability. Nancy Pelosi and Tim Kaine endeavor to keep those benefits in place and not let them be removed. Whereas some of your evangelical Christians in Congress support cutting or doing away altogether with that funding. As the mother of a young woman with Down syndrome, I believe the "epiphany" should with those in politics who support this monstrosity of a president and Administration!

Henry George
1 week ago

What do people want out of life - just endless pleasure ?
Minimal responsibilities ?

To have a national program as Iceland, has or is moving toward,
to eliminate all babes in the womb who may not measure up to the standards Iceland wants - is beyond repulsive.

You will learn more about what is important in life be helping
others, even if the help may strike you, at first, as futile.

Yet so little outcry about such policies.

First they came for the babes in the wombs and we said nothing,
then they came for sick and the elderly and we said nothing,
soon they will come for the bottom 25 % and no one will say
anything, then the next quartile, and finally the third, then the top
25 % will be free to live lives of complete hedonism.

Debbie Clark
1 week ago

Thank you for this beautiful article, Patty. I am the proud mother of 2 sons on the autism spectrum. Plus, I run a nonprofit organization to help other families with children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. I have been an advocate for the disabled for many, many years. They are human beings.... not flesh and blood to be discarded by society for burdening it. I LOVE these kids and adults who are people first and who happen to have a disability. I also advocate for homeless people. Should mothers have aborted their babies because they thought they might become homeless? Jesus welcomed EVERYBODY to the feast.... people who shun the least of us or "kill" them through abortions because of Down Syndrome or any other disability are not truly Christians. We as a society have to embrace all of our brothers and sisters.... in other words, let the first one without sin cast the first stone.

Teresa Armstrong
1 week ago

I agree with Ms. Heaton that the way a physician informs his/her patient is so important. My OB/GYN was very positive and encouraging when he told us our fourth child (in four years) would be born with Down syndrome. It influenced my attitude immensely, since I had never really known anyone with it. Still, the fear is very human and normal. One of my first instincts was to make "it all go away." Something, the Holy Spirit, told me that an abortion would take her out of my body, but would never make her "go away". She would be in my thoughts and emotions every minute. I came to the realization that it would be easier to deal with whatever challenges she came with, than to deal with the emotional toll of an abortion on my conscience. Nineteen years later, she is grown andwonderful and while there are challenges, the gifts and joy that she brings to our family are immeasurable and precious. Never once have I ever for a second ever thought we made a mistake. She has made me a wiser, more compassionate, insightful person. Still, I would never judge a woman who was in my position, and went another way. Interesting, that I would have been more judgmental before our daughter was born. My job as a Christian, Catholic is to love, encourage and help. I also believe we as a society need to make it easier for woman to have babies and raise them.

Ysais Martinez
6 days 21 hours ago

So much contempt for the weak sends chills down my spine.

Ellen B
6 days 19 hours ago

Maybe the author can start a group specifically devoted to adopting the down babies. That would give the person carrying the child another option.

Teresa Armstrong
6 days 12 hours ago

Honestly, until someone is in the position of being told their child will be born with Down syndrome or another life changing disability, they are speaking around the periphery. I do not think anyone should be encouraged to terminate their pregnancy ever, but it is not so simple. The crushing weight one feels and the sense of overwhelming responsibility for such a fragile life is indescribable. No one can know that unless they've been in that position, as I and my husband were. I felt God was testing me to walk the talk and my faith saved us. It's a very sensitive time for a family. So, until you've walked a mile in that mother's shoes, your opinions are not really valid.

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