When you hear the word “holocaust,” most people automatically think of Hitler and the Nazis, slaughtering the Jews. Many people don’t know that there was another group that Hitler targeted first – a dress rehearsal of sorts for the horror that was to come later. The first group of people that Hitler went after was the disabled.
First, there was a law passed in 1933 which required the forced sterilization of people with disabilities, and over 400,000 people were sterilized. Then there was Aktion-T4, which authorized the murders of disabled people. Over 70,000 were killed. They would be placed in buses and taken to killing centers, where they were murdered as soon as they got there under the Nazi euthanasia program.
How many people will learn about that and be horrified? And how many of them know that right now, to this very day, we’re still practicing eugenics against the disabled? This holocaust, though, is a silent one. It’s one that many people won’t hear about, and if they do, they excuse it. The holocaust I’m referring to is the systematic killing of babies with Down syndrome.
Prenatal testing has allowed more and more parents to find out that their children have Down syndrome before the babies are born. Unfortunately, 90% of those parents choose to kill their children, simply because they have an extra chromosome. It’s a horrifying notion, but one that stays, for the most part, under the radar. With the advent of a new test, MaterniT21, which is non-invasive and 99% accurate, there is a very good chance that it will only get worse. And now, the number of babies born with Down syndrome is dropping to a number low enough to have researchers and advocates worried. As more and more women choose to have babies later, the number of Down syndrome births should have risen about 35%. Instead, it has dropped 15%.
For every ten babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome, only one will get to live. Only one will be lucky enough to have parents who love him enough to not murder him because he has an extra chromosome.
Why do so many parents feel they need to kill their baby once they find out that the baby is different? It’s a disturbing question to have to ask, especially when the reality of living with a child who has Down syndrome is so different from what people often picture. One recent study showed what a blessing these children are, and that the diagnosis is not the end of the world. The study found that:
99% of parents say they truly love their son or daughter with Down syndrome; 88% of brothers and sisters say they are better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome themselves spoke up, too: 99% are happy with their lives, and 97% like who they are.
Another study, conducted by the Children’s Hospital in Boston, found that an overwhelming majority of parents of children with Down syndrome reported a more positive outlook on life.
These are not miserable, stupid people cursed with an extra chromosome and doomed to live empty, meaningless lives. These are not families who feel burdened because they have a child who is different. People who have Down syndrome go to school, make friends, work, get married. They are happy people with full lives. So why do parents get this diagnosis and almost immediately turn to abortion? What is it that makes them feel they have no other choice?
One troubling reason: the medical community encourages them to. Several studies have found that physicians often put a negative spin on the results and pressure the women to terminate the pregnancy. And that can weigh heavily on a woman who is confused and scared about what to do.
When I received the diagnosis that my unborn son has Down syndrome, it was an emotional roller coaster, to say the very least. I cried for just about three days straight. Every time I thought of my baby, I would just start crying again. It got better over time, but it was difficult. And I had a lot of fears. What if he isn’t healthy? Will his heart be OK? What will his life be like? Is he going to be made fun of and teased? Will he have friends? Those thoughts went through my head over and over again. And while for me, abortion was never an option to begin with, I was – and am – extraordinarily lucky to have a specialist who is very positive about Down syndrome. He never encouraged me to abort the pregnancy; to the contrary, he actually reassured me that many of his patients don’t. He recommended resources for me so I could educate myself. He mentioned local Down syndrome support groups. And while my mind had been made up the entire time, it was comforting to have such a positive experience.
How many mothers feel the same emotions that I felt, had the same fears that I did, only to have their doctors reinforce those fears? To encourage them to abort? It might sound like an exaggeration, but consider that the two largest advocacy groups for Down syndrome — the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) — do not take a stance on abortion. They do not encourage parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis to keep the baby. If the decision is made to abort, then it is shrugged off as a personal decision and nothing more. And while both groups do phenomenal work on behalf of people with Down syndrome, it is disheartening, to say the least, that they do not advocate for the 90% of babies slaughtered.
There is an attitude, one perpetuated by the culture of death, that for some people, it’s just “too much” to raise a child with Down syndrome. When a pregnant woman gets the diagnosis and expresses doubt that she can handle it, it is not uncommon for people to agree with her, to say that she’s doing nothing wrong by aborting. They’ll even say it’s better for the child, because who would choose to live a life with a disability? Better dead than to have Down syndrome. What they won’t do is point out to her that the vast majority of parents with Down syndrome children are happy and love their kids, that people who have Down syndrome are happy with their lives. They won’t be told that children with Down syndrome are such a joy that there are very long waiting lists to adopt a child with Down syndrome.
Thankfully, there is at least one organization dedicated to fighting for the right of these people to live: the International Down Syndrome Coalition for Life. And in honor of today, World Down Syndrome Day, they made a video asking mothers of children with Down syndrome what they would tell themselves if they could go back to before they had children. The responses made me laugh and cry.
These are the things we should be spreading in those moments of fear and confusion. And even for those of us who don’t have someone with Down syndrome in our lives, we still need to stand up and fight for the right of these people to live. To not be killed just because they are different. So today, whether you are personally affected or not, I ask you to take a stand. Take the time to learn about Down syndrome, and to educate others. Resolve to do all that you can to stand up for everyone’s right to live – everyone’s, no matter how many chromosomes he or she may have.