This month, CBS News aired a TV show titled “Why Down Syndrome in Iceland Has Almost Disappeared” . Iceland encourages all expectant mothers to test their unborn babies for birth defects and, when a probable (85% accuracy, according to the show) Down Syndrome diagnosis is made, almost all mothers have an abortion. This is the highest percentage of all countries. But Down Syndrome is not being “eradicated”. The children are.
In the show, an Icelandic mother who has a 7 year old daughter with Down Syndrome was interviewed. She said about her daughter:
“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream, Isn’t that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?” (Emphasis added)
A counselor at an Icelandic hospital had another view and
“tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.” (Emphasis added)
Horrifyingly, she also shows the reporter “a prayer card inscribed with the date and tiny footprints of a fetus that was terminated.” (Emphasis added)
The counselor ends by saying:
“We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.” (Emphasis added)
In June, I wrote a blog “Baby Doe and Karen-35 Years Later” about the medical discrimination that both of those gentle souls with Down Syndrome faced in their short lifetimes.
But as frightening as that discrimination was, the reaction from others-even family-when Karen was born was the most heartbreaking.
When Karen was born, there were no congratulations or smiles from the staff or relatives even though Karen was unarguably a beautiful and serene baby girl. But although shattered by the initial (and wrong) diagnosis of an inoperable heart defect, I was determined that Karen be welcomed at least by me. So on the night she was born, I sang “Happy Birthday” and told her how much I loved her through my tears.
After Karen tragically died almost 6 months later, even some family members told me that I should not have tried so hard to save “that baby”.
My point is that it is not enough to just be against aborting or withholding treatment from babies with disabilities. They and their parents must feel supported and encouraged instead of isolated or pitied.
Now that’s the kind of society I want to live in!