‘Elimination’ of Down syndrome is a ‘great hate crime,’ says Holy See conference at the U.N.

A young girl sitting next to Pope Francis smiles during an audience with Special Olympics athletes participating in the Unified Football tournament, at the Vatican Oct. 13. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)A young girl sitting next to Pope Francis smiles during an audience with Special Olympics athletes participating in the Unified Football tournament, at the Vatican Oct. 13. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Last year, CBS News reported that Iceland is close to “eradicating” Down syndrome due to the high numbers of women aborting children diagnosed with the condition in utero. More recently, five days before World Down Syndrome Day, The Washington Post published a column by Ruth Marcus headlined, “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down Syndrome. Women need that right.”

How should Catholic faithful respond to this troubling attitude? Yesterday, the Holy See gathered panelists at the United Nations to speak against disability-based abortion and what one called “the greatest hate crime of this generation.”

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“Here at the United Nations there is much sincere talk and normally passionate action to fight against any form of discrimination,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, in opening the conference. Yet, he claimed, “in practice many states, U.N. agencies and members of civil society tolerate gross violations of these commitments.”

The Holy See invited persons with Down syndrome, their families, advocates and research professionals to explore various challenges facing individuals with the condition and cultural attitudes towards those with disabilities.

"People with Down syndrome have beauty that starts from the inside out."

After a tear-filled viewing of a video of children with Down syndrome sharing the joys and struggles of their lives, Mikayla Holmgren shared her own story. The 23-year-old woman from Minnesota made headlines last year as the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant. “My parents were told that because of my Down syndrome diagnosis,” Ms. Holmgren explained, “I might never be able to walk or talk.” Yet, “I found my passion for dance.”

An award-winning dancer, Ms. Holmgren said she sought to show “the world that people with Down syndrome have beauty that starts from the inside out.” She also made a reference to Iceland, saying, “there are countries in the world that would like to get rid of people like me.”

Parents of children with Down syndrome were also invited to speak about the dignity of the disabled. Kurt Kondrich, a retired police officer, spoke about how his daughter, Chloe, had a significant impact on his own life. He noted that the United States has laws to protect the eggs of bald eagles and sea turtles, but none to protect unborn children with Down syndrome. “I can’t think of any greater hate crime than identifying a population for termination because they don’t live up to our culture’s standards of perfection,” Mr. Kondrich said.

“Down syndrome kids bring us peace. They unite us.”

As an advocate for children, he helped pass “Chloe’s Law,” which requires health care providers to inform women who have received prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses that they can receive care and support from the state of Pennsylvania. This law received rare, nearly unanimous, bipartisan support. He is now trying to pass a law that makes abortion on the basis of a disability diagnosis illegal under protections against discrimination. “Here’s a population of people whom I will never have to arrest,” Mr. Kondrich said. “Down syndrome kids bring us peace. They unite us.”

Deidre Pujols, vice president of the Pujols Family Foundation and wife of baseball player Albert Pujols, spoke about her advocacy on behalf of her daughter with Down syndrome, Bella. “Maybe one day we will live in a world without disabilities. Wouldn’t that be perfect for modern-day Hitlers?” Ms. Pujols asked. She compared the current practices in Iceland to Nazi eugenicist ideals.

In addition to personal testimonies, medical professionals shed light on the current state of Down syndrome research. Mary O’Callaghan, a developmental psychologist at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the mother of a child with Down syndrome, discussed the discrimination against children with the condition in obstetrics and in society at large.

Dr. O’Callaghan highlighted studies that show a correlation between the widespread use of prenatal genetic screening and high incidences of abortion. Nations like the United States are considering pain-capable abortion restrictions, but Dr. O’Callaghan said that exempting fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome or other disabilities from such laws would be discrimination. Looking at examples like Iceland, she concluded her remarks by noting the hypocrisy of trying to eliminate a disease “not with treatment, but by eliminating patients.”

Iceland is trying to eliminate a disease “not with treatment, but by eliminating patients.”

Patricia White Flatley, co-founder of the LuMind Research Down Syndrome Foundation, noted the advances in medical treatment for persons with Down syndrome. “Instead of skepticism, there is every reason to be optimistic,” said Dr. Flatley. She reported that in recent years, there has been renewed interest in the research community to improve quality of life for Down syndrome patients. Dr. Flatley said that this is a “critical moment” because there are numerous clinical trials now testing ways to ameliorate cognitive challenges.

The final panelist was Randall Wright, director of “Summer in the Forest,” a documentary about Jean Vanier, an 89-year-old philosopher who rescued individuals from restrictive institutes for the disabled in Paris and created L’Arche, a commune on the outskirts of the city. L’Arche is now an international organization of communities that bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities. Mr. Wright applauded the conference’s energy for activism but also noted that there was “a great cry coming from the room.” The disabled and their advocates are angry, he explained, at being left out of conversations.

“Jean Vanier answered that cry,” Mr. Wright said. “He proved that these ‘rejects’ are people.”

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Crystal Watson
9 months ago

I don't think anyone should be forced to have a child, especially a child that will be disabled to an unknown degree. Not everyone is financially or emotionally prepared to do raise such a child, and who will care for them when their parents are gone? This isn't about discriminating against the disabled ... no one is advocating forced abortions of fetuses with abnormalities ... it's about a person's right to decide if they want to be a parent or not.

Bob Hunt
9 months ago

No one is advocating forced abortions? Well, not technically. But, when the Down Syndrome population is almost entirely eliminated, services for those with Down Syndrome are also eliminated, taking away an real choice. The social pressure, as well, can be intense, when an entire society basically tells you that the choice you're making is contrary to what everyone else thinks is the right choice, and what even the government comes to expect of its citizens.
We are all aware of how babies are made. The time to decide if one wants to be a parent is prior to doing what it takes to make babies.

Dolores Pap
9 months ago

“I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down Syndrome. Women need that right.”

She's right. Here in the USA, women have the legal right to an abortion, and women for whom abortion is a grave failing, should follow their conscience.

I am the sister of a now deceased Down brother, plus, I worked for twenty years in a school for multiply disabled children, so I have first hand experience of the level of involvement and the degree of physical and mental impairments that are possible. Sadly, some of my poor kids were so terribly compromised, that their lives and those of their families were a never ending trial. I could, and would not, ever be able to walk in their shoes.

Mike Theman
9 months ago

How many women have been forced to become pregnant? I never understand why the nine-ish months of gestation is the time when women suddenly decide to claim high respect for their bodies. If you can't deal with the possibilities of pregnancy, then you're not prepared to be a parent.

Basic biological understanding of conception to the development of a completed human makes one wonder how children without issues are even possible. There are no guarantees in this life.

Vince Killoran
9 months ago

"How many women have been forced to become pregnant?" About 32,000 p.a. (https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2013/06/rape-pregnancy-statisti…). That's the number of U.S. women who become pregnant as a result of forced rape. The figure doesn't account for women who are coerced in other ways (e.g., family pressure, psychological terror) to become pregnant. I think your "question" was a snarky attempt to prove that women who get pregnant are promiscuous &/or dumb.

"I never understand why the nine-ish months of gestation is the time when women suddenly decide to claim high respect for their bodies." I don't know where to start w/this gem. It's so disconnected from the decades of effort by women (and men) to counter sexual assault & harassment. Do you have a wife or daughter?

Crystal Watson
9 months ago

And given the Right's war on contraception, unwanted pregnancies become even more probable.

No one is forced to abort a fetus with Down syndrome. women should get to decide if they want those babies or do not.

Vince Killoran
9 months ago

"How stupid do you think I am?" This is a Lenten temptation you are putting in front of me, right?

In any case, you can "call b.s." as much as you wish but the figure I stated was from a university study, not a pro-choice organization: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765248. BTW, this study was about forceable rape, not consensual sexual relations.

This exchange would be more fruitful if you would actually read the evidence. If you want to challenge the university study, that's great. Perhaps you find the researchers methodology faulty? Was there a mistake in the data collation?

Mike Theman
9 months ago

Vince, I'm a former researcher (I left the field because of politics, corruption and bias of my colleagues and the institution I worked for), so forgive me if I don't give much credit to the results of studies in academia on subjects involving politics. Did you read the article that I published which critiqued the studies that claimed higher numbers of pregnancies due to rape? No, of course not.

Vince Killoran
8 months 4 weeks ago

I did follow your link and note the conclusion: "Estimates of rape-related pregnancies per year vary from 3,200 to 50,000. Davis’ number, despite dating from 1998, fits inside that range, but there is too much disagreement for us -- or Davis -- to pin any one statistic as the definitive number of rape-related pregnancies per year."

How on earth does this fit your argument, i.e., "Can't handle the results of sex? Don't have sex. Yes, it's that easy"? Your own source supports the conclusion that thousands of women "have sex" because they are raped and become pregnant.

Crystal Watson
9 months ago

What this really seems to be all about is that you hate the idea of people enjoying sex for its own sake, without some form of punishment following.

James Haraldson
9 months ago

You advocate a morally insane fantasy right to justify an evil as great as a human being is capable of. Shame on you. Rights and obligations are not arbitrary. They are inherent to the human condition as divinely endowed. If you believe your neighbor struggles to care for a handicapped child, YOU have an obligation to help them.

Crystal Watson
9 months ago

You have some beliefs, make some assumptions. Abortion isn't mentioned in the bible, fetuses were not considered to be "people" at that time. Why do you assert that abortion is "an evil as great as a human being is capable of"? I'm a Democrat - I'm all about the government helping the disabled - it's conservatives who want to gut social programs.

Stuart Meisenzahl
9 months ago

Crystal
You might consider that our progressive Pope Francis has termed abortion to be "an abominable crime". I can't think of a stronger condemnatory language.

Tim O'Leary
9 months ago

Crystal - "I don't think anyone should be forced to have a child, especially a child that will be disabled to an unknown degree." sounds a lot like "we shouldn't be forced to care for our neighbor" - goes directly against the Commandment to love one's neighbor.

Dolores Pap
9 months ago

Well, Tim, the stark reality is that once you bring that child home, you are pretty much on your own. You are the one responsible for that child. Life will change for the whole family, and often, the reality will be far worse than you can imagine. The worry and struggle never ends, not even when the child becomes an adult. Believe me- I have seen it all.

Tim O'Leary
9 months ago

Dolores - Jesus didn't qualify his commandment "Love your neighbor" with an if, like if "others support you." I am not saying it is easy at all. no one's life is. But, killing an innocent child is never the answer to any of life's hard questions. Even so, there are families out there willing to adopt children with Down syndrome. "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. Deut 30:19-20.

Crystal Watson
9 months ago

.

Mike Bayer
9 months ago

Sorry to re-orient the discussion but didn't Jesus eliminate people's disabilities? Or is that just a metaphor for forgiveness of sin? I am glad the Commonwealth of PA helps families with disabled children. Government, as an expression of society's will, should help these families ease their burdens (can I use that word?). People with Down Syndrome or any trisomy or any genetic defect deserve all the help they can get. However, I can't believe this article or the Church in general would not want science and medicine to work to prevent birth defects and disease, and I can't believe this magazine would allow the quote "future Hitlers" in that context.

This article lacked balance, reasoned discourse, and perspective. I'm grateful it was missing the extremism of Rick Santorum, but it came close.

Bob Hunt
9 months ago

Your comment reminds me of a class in medical ethics I took many years ago. The topic of the Holocaust came up, and the instructor felt it necessary to describe her moral objection to the Final Solution as her "opinion," apparently feeling the need to protect the feelings of those who might regard the systematic elimination of Jews, priests, homosexuals, gypsies, Communists, and the disabled as a legitimate moral option. You'll recall that "America" is a Jesuit magazine, and the Jesuits are an order of priests in the Catholic Church. You ought not be surprised that, given the Church's teaching on discrimination, genocide, and abortion, the editors don't feel any obligation to offer "balance" on the question. Your complaint that the article lacked reasoned discourse and perspective is simply incorrect. It is quite reasonable to respect the intrinsic dignity of each person and to offer the testimony of those who respect that perspective, a perspective that fewer and fewer in our world are interested in considering.

The Church is quite eager for science and medicine to work to prevent birth defects and disease, and your ridiculous accusation that the Church might not desire that reveals your own unwillingness to be reasonable. But, work to prevent birth defects and disease does not include killing those with birth defects and diseases. In fact, killing people is always the easy way out of a difficult problem. I can't believe that you can't believe that the magazine would allow the quote "future Hitlers" in the context, given that those with disabilities, birth defects, and terminal diseases were targets of Hitler's genocidal machinations.

Suzanne Smith
9 months ago

Mike, this is a Catholic magazine, and expresses the POV of our Church's social teachings. 1) Catholics are not Jesus, we follow Jesus, so we can't command the lame to walk and "eliminate people's disabilities" ; 2) the Church is a great believer in the power of science and medicine to solve medical problems but we do not see eradication of people with Down's or other disabilities as preventing birth defects and disease - that is accomplished through medical research, not abortion. The social teaching of our Church has always championed support for those on the margins -- the poor, the disabled, the refugee. We have not been perfect in living that out all the time, but that is the teaching.

Mike Fitzpatrick
9 months ago

This is what the "progressives" and US Democrat party are pushing. Abortion is the largest plank in their platform. The Vatican needs to stand up against this progressive, leftist ideology.

Al Cannistraro
9 months ago

Yesterday, the Holy See gathered panelists at the United Nations to speak against disability-based abortion and what one called “the greatest hate crime of this generation.”

Including the above ungrounded, anonymous and inflammatory assertion in this article isn't going to change many minds. Passion is not an argument.

Bill Niermeyer
9 months ago

We as a society do more for Humane Societies especially with great amounts of monies freely given to spay and neuter dogs and cats yet most shelters are bursting at the seams with stray dogs and cats and those who are no longer wanted. Maybe a husband or wife who has genetic abnormalities in their genetic familial makeup need to be sterilized. Be much better than aborting the human they carelessly bring forth. Their is a huge need for genetic counseling before such a family is allowed to breed. We are in fact dealing with intelligent humans are we not. Education is of utmost importance. But if a man and women who know and understand the risk of birthing a child with Down's then everything need be done to safe guard that persons humanity and might I say spirituality.

John Walton
9 months ago

When my uncle returned from his 3 tours of duty as a doc in Korea, he felt a need to .... well let's say it was a "need". He volunteered as a physician for the summer program which Cleveland's "Red Feather" agency supported for retarded children. He checked out the kids and they were sent off for a week. On his Wednesday off he would take me and my sisters to visit the camp.

In high school, maybe 15 years old, I was a junior counselor at the camp -- in charge of "boys" (with a fellow a few years older as senior counselor.) The "boys" ranged in age from 21 to 34 years of age. One had a "grand mal" seizure in the pool and I plucked him out before he drowned. He was 32 years old, always had to wear a helmet.

There is a certain "joy" which these children "evince". It's a reflection of divine simplicity in all its magnificence.

Crystal Watson
9 months ago

As someone with an inherited disability - Stargardt disease - I find it weird for church leaders to try to force others to have more disabled children. Disabled people aren't disabled by choice and we don't like being used as object lessons for religion.

Lisa Weber
9 months ago

People with Down Syndrome are usually quite capable, relative to many in the group we label "disabled" or "developmentally delayed." The more difficult situation to consider is when more profound handicaps are involved. It is easy to be pious about others' choices with regard to pregnancy when you don't have to do the 24/7, lifelong care of someone profoundly disabled. I am unwilling to throw rocks at others' choices because I am not sure how I would make the decision if I had to walk in the shoes of the prospective parents.

Mike Theman
9 months ago

The risks of pregnancy and subsequent gestational development and childbirth are as old as life itself. And the risk of sexual intercourse is pregnancy. The right to not have children begins before conception; that includes the right to not have a child with Down's Syndrome.

The Church in its wisdom recognized long ago that the issues with pregnancy can be dealt with by human will relative to the sexual act. Our culture has elected to exchange sexual restraint and respect for one's body with mindless abandon and hedonism.

Lisa Weber
9 months ago

From your name, I would guess that you have never been pregnant and are in no danger of becoming pregnant. From your comments, I would guess that you have never had much personal experience with people who are disabled to the point of needing 24/7 total care. It is wise to withhold judgment till you have walked in the shoes of people who have either carried a child to term or cared for the disabled.

Tim Donovan
9 months ago

Hello, I certainly don't question your sincerity, although I disagree with your condoning the violent choice of legal abortion. Being both a,man and gay, I certainly haven't had the experience of having been pregnant or giving birth. However, my best friend when he was 19 and in college found out that his 17 year old girlfriend who was a high school senior was pregnant. It was very difficult for both of them (especially his girlfriend). However, she did give birth to a,beautiful son one month after she graduated from high school at age 18. My two friends then got married nine months after their baby was born. No, I've never been a father, but for a number of years I helped my friends take care of their (ultimately) four chikdren. I also have assisted my sister and brother in caring for their four children, my three nieces and nephew. As a Special Education teacher, with children with various degrees of brain damage, physical disabilities and/or behavior disorders, I found my work to be challenging much of the time, but I loved my students and cared for their most personal needs. Of course, like any teacher, at the end of the school day I went home. However, in late 1993, my aunt who was a widow, and had no children and who lived alone, had surgery for brain cancer. While a teacher, at the end of each day, for several months my parents and me with the assistance of hospice staff took care of my aunt. (My parents had taken my aunt into their home, and after lapsing into a coma, after several days she died peacefully). Without for a moment questioning the life-long commitment that parents have for their children, without being immodest, I believe that I've a generally good idea of what it's like to be a caregiver, both in a physical and emotional sense. Finally, as a resident in a nursing home, I do my best to assist other residents with their personal needs.

Lisa Weber
9 months ago

I am not condoning the choice of abortion, but I can understand how someone would make that choice. I don't feel that I should make that choice for others nor condemn them for the choice they make. I am only glad I have never been faced with that dilemma.

Mike Theman
8 months 4 weeks ago

Lisa Weber, I'm a parent (and the uncle of a severely disabled child, well cared for by my older brother and his wife) and went threw three (intended) pregnancies with my wife, well aware that there was the potential for any of our children to have health issues. We had discussed, prior to trying for a child, that we were willing to take any child that God blessed us with. So, with all due respect, I practice what I preach: do not have sex with the risk of pregnancy unless you are willing to face all consequences of that act.

James Haraldson
9 months ago

Now if we can only get rid of all the amoral utilitarians within the Church who teach moral theology and justify exterminating inconvenient life.

Tim Donovan
9 months ago

I'm a former long-time registered Democrat for more than 30 years (I'm now 56) and reluctantly became a Republican several years ago. I consider myself to be left-of-center politically. I oppose capital punishment, and support stringent gun control laws. Although I 'm not a pacifist, I admire their convictions. I favor war only as a last resort after diplomatic efforts have been exhausted. Civilians must never be deliberately targeted, and nuclear weapons must never be used. I support reasonable government regulations and laws to protect our environment. I also support reasonable government assistance to the millions of Americans in need. Among other people, these include people who are homeless, disabled (I was a Special Education teacher with children with brain damage), senior citizens, veterans, people who are addicted to drugs, those who are mentally ill or seriously ill, and victims of human trafficking and other forms of abuse. I also favor reasonable foreign aid both for economic development as well as humanitarian assistance to nations in need. However, I'm firmly against the violence of legal abortion. Because of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, it's tragic that abortion is legal for any reason up until the time the unborn infant (or fetus, which means "young one" in latin) is viable. Without being immodest, I do when I'm able make modest contributions to two alternative -to-abortion centers, or which there are well over one thousand in our nation that provide compassionate, practical assistance to pregnant women and their children. Most of the disabled children and adults that I worked with (in different capacities for more than 25 years)didn't have Down Syndrome. But I do believe that despite some often significant challenges (including cardiac problems) that people with this disability or any can have happy lives, and have the right to life. A friend of mine who's a Special Education teacher with whom I worked with before I retired is, along with her husband, the primary caregivers for her sister who has Down Syndrome. Again, I don't want to have a "Pollyanna" attitude, but this woman, although like all of us has her had moods, greatly enjoys life. According to an article in The Week magazine (March 23, 2018), Ruth Marcus wrote in the Washington Post that the majority of people with Down Syndrome have significant cognitive impairment. First, there simply is no way of knowing prior to the birth of the baby by prenatal tests the degree of mental disability. Second, if I remember correctly, only a small minority of people with the syndrome have a severe disability!
No, the Bible doesn't specifically mention abortion, but there are any number of matters that either aren't mentioned or that Jesus didn't teach against. For instance, Jesus didn't teach against capital punishment. Arguably, He was a victim of the death penalty. However, I believe (as an imperfect Catholic -- more on that later) that in a real sense Jesus was unique. Jesus came to earth and became man ( "true God and true man") to not only teach the people of His time, but more to the point, to suffer and die on the Cross, and rise to relieve us of our sins. Also, the Romans practiced slavery, and Jesus didn't say anything against slavery.
I do believe that the killing of the unborn with Down Syndrome is a form of discrimination. I understand what discrimination is like. I certainly haven't been the object of such terrible discrimination as Afican-Americans. However, I'm gay, and even before I "came out" and disclosed my orientation to those that I loved, many people assumed that I was gay, and from a young age I was taunted by being called the painful terms sissy and faggot. I referred to myself as an imperfect Catholic, because many years ago I had sex with men. However, I regretted my behavior, and received forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a compassionate priest. As is undoubtedly true of most (all?) people, I continue to commit various sins, so each month I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with my pastor. He's very kind, because he's extremely busy ministering to the people at a large parish, and he visits me at the quality nursing home/rehabilitation center where I live. Although I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman (which is,not only the teaching of our Church but the traditional understanding of marriage for many centuries in Western culture) I do respect other gay people. I have a,gay friend that I've known for many years. Also, although I believe abortion is a violent solution to an often difficult situation, I certainly don't "hate" women who have abortions, although I vehemently disagree with their choice. I know three women who've had abortions, one who is the older sister of an old friend. Again, we always got along fine (although because of different circumstances, I haven't seen her in some years.

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