Yesterday, a frightening article appeared in my inbox.
It was an editorial about a piece from CBSN On Assignment titled What kind of a society do you want to live in? Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing.
The piece talks about Iceland: a place where, through pre-natal screening, the country has virtually eliminated people being born with Down syndrome. This means, in a country where 85% of pregnant women choose to have pre-natal screening, 100% of them choose to have an abortion when told they’re carrying a child with Down syndrome.
In Europe overall, pregnant woman who are told they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome, choose abortion 92% of the time.
For those among us who have Down syndrome or who live, work, love and/or support people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, this seems unbelievable.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with parents wanting a happy, healthy baby. But where is the definition of happy and healthy coming from? Do people think that a person born with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities can’t be happy and healthy? Yes, that’s exactly what some believe.
Others believe that such children will be a burden. They believe they’ll take up too much time and money, both for the family and society at large, relative to what they could ever give back.
So, here we are in 2017 – that’s 2017, not 1917. We look at these sorts of statistics and shudder. We hear increasingly, both in Ontario and around the world, about so-called new and innovative buildings and communities for people with intellectual disabilities, where they can be with their friends, where the supports and services they need are right there. How convenient and cost-effective for the rest of us! At the same time we hear the rhetoric of fear, hate and division spewing forth and overflowing from America and we shudder some more.
Way back in 1961, long before he was President, Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Similarly, I believe our very humanity is never more than one generation away from extinction. Now perhaps more than ever before, we have a shared responsibility to those who came before us and to society as a whole, to lead by example, to teach not only our children, but our friends, families and neighbours, that respect, inclusion and diversity are the things that make us truly human and that they’re worth standing up for.
I’m frustrated and angry, but I’ll never give up. The stakes are just too high. Like the article said: What kind of society do you want to live in?
Are you with me?
Chris Beesley, father, friend, neighbour and CEO of Community Living Ontario