There has been a lot of talk about the “eradication” of Down syndrome in Iceland. When using the word “eradication,” we often think about disease and are happy that science has had a breakthrough. Is that what is going on in Iceland, though? It seems a better word would be genocide.
Before emotions flair, let’s think about what genocide means. It is simply the deliberate, systematic attempt to erase a category of people. Is what is happening in Iceland eradicating a disease or the genocide of people with Down syndrome? I believe we are looking at genocide.
Few U.S. citizens will say, “I don’t believe in equality” but plenty will act on the assumption that the rights of the presumably more capable trump the rights of the presumably less.
Reducing a human to the sum of their cells is a slippery slope, one with disastrous results historically. Take, for example, China’s one-child policy from the late ’70s and ’80s. Combined with cultural pressures, this policy forced Chinese families to be selective over the sex of their one child. As a result, millions of little girls, both preborn and post-born, were either aborted or abandoned. Years later, their absence was felt as China faced a generation of mostly men, unable to produce families for the lack of women. The void left from the abortion and abandonment of millions of women even garnered a nickname from Nobel prize winner Amartya Kumar Sen — China’s “missing girls,” Sen calculated that the deficit of Chinese women to have reached the millions, with cultural and economic impacts still lingering in China today.
Not only has the eradication of those with Down syndrome usurped the rights of a minority. It has also deprived society of further advancements in science and medicine.
When it comes to contributing to science and culture, the extra chromosome 21 offers some unique benefits. In 2017, Frank Stephens, proud owner of an extra chromosome 21 and a Quincy Jones Advocate for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, outlined some of these benefits in a powerful speech to the Massachusetts House Appropriations Subcommittee.
“I don’t feel I should have to justify my existence.” said Stephens, “But to those who question the value of people with Down syndrome. ... First, we are a medical gift to society, a blueprint for medical research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, and immune system disorders. ... Secondly, we are an unusually powerful source of happiness. A Harvard-based study has discovered that people with DS as well as their parents and sibling are happier than society, at large.”
Thankfully, even in trying times, there is hope. Other countries like Poland, and U.S. states like Florida, Arizona and South Dakota have introduced bills that would help protect people with special needs from this newest form of discrimination and genocide. Cheering on these life-saving bills is a stunning array of pro-life medical professionals, humanitarian organizations and families, all speaking the truth that a person is more than the sum of their cells. This is our hope for our neighbors with special needs — to be seen as human, and nothing less.
There are simple actions we can take to honor the humanity of our neighbors with special needs. For example, we can mark our calendars for special needs awareness days like World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), World Autism Awareness Day (April 2) and World Cerebral Palsy Day (Oct. 6), and set apart these days to celebrate those who are different from us.
One of the simplest and most powerful actions we can take is using our words to break the stigmas associated with having special needs. When celebrating a pregnancy, instead of saying, “I don’t care if it’s a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy,” which may imply that a baby with special needs has less value, instead say, “I don’t care if it’s a boy or girl. We’re just excited to see who God is sending to our family!”
And lastly, when working to be more inclusive, we can keep Stephens’ request in mind.
“See me as a human being,” he says, “not a birth defect, not a syndrome. I don’t need to be eradicated. I don’t need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped.”
Robyn Chambers is the executive director of advocacy for children at Focus on the Family. Chambers works with a variety of pro-life organizations, providing ultrasound machines and sonography training to qualified pro-life medical clinics in high-abortion communities.