The unique dignity and worth of people with Down syndrome

Posted by Courtney Elbert on January 24, 2011 

Did you know 9 out of 10 women choose to abort people like my son, Sam, who happens to have Down syndrome?  We love Sam profoundly, and we happen to take this abortion rate personally. 

A society consumed with appearance, competition, pragmatism, self-affirmation and perfectly planned lives, seems to have less respect for the dignity and worth of the 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities. 

Babies with Down syndrome are thrown away because of a genetic condition that is neither fatal nor contagious, but merely unwanted or inconvenient.  I emit guttural moans of sorrow for our society that rejoices about prenatal tests that draw eugenic bulls-eyes on even more babies who are blessed with an extra chromosome #21.  There’s a waiting list of 200 people in America who want to adopt a child with Down syndrome.

I have seen glimpses of Heaven and Hell in the way society treats my little boy with an extra chromosome.  Pope Benedict XVI said, “Every child…brings us God’s smile and invites us to recognize that life is His gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care always and at every moment.”  

We are richly blessed and forever grateful for the gift of our son.  Sam’s presence can make muted colors become brilliantly vibrant.  He can bridge vast canyons in the most broken of souls.  He can scream out hope and dignity - with silence. He can shake philosophies that anchor civilizations – by being still.   He challenges us to open our eyes and hearts to the capacity for goodness in each person we encounter.   Sam urges us to love and live differently.  He helps us see that in ways we are all broken, and in ways we are all whole.   

Through the presence of people with disabilities in our world, we are challenged to be less selfish and more patient, less judgmental and more inclusive, less self-absorbed and more empathetic, less cruel and more compassionate.  There’s profound richness in cherishing ALL people as fully human, and seeing ALL people worthy of life, love and respect. 

The “March for Life” ascends on Washington today to challenge our society’s descent into a “culture of death”.  When speaking recently with students at Father Ryan High School in Tennessee, I implored them to be the voices for unborn children with disabilities.  In March, I’ll speak at Father Ryan about dignity of life for people with disabilities.  I’ll remind them of Pope Benedict XVI’s message: “Life, which is a work of God, should not be denied to anyone, even the tiniest and most defenseless unborn child, and far less to a child with serious disabilities.”  I’ll remind them that the “culture of life” cannot exist in isolation; we have a responsibility to include ALL people in society, and to nurture ALL people in reaching their fullest potential.  

From a weary, yet hopeful mother’s heart, I beg you to open your eyes, hearts, minds and doors to people with disabilities, and cherish the unique dignity and gifts they offer. 

 

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