Pope Francis reaches out to greet Grazia, a girl with Down syndrome, during the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 2015, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. (Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)
Most of us are here to learn but those with Down syndrome are here to teach.
Back in the dark days of the 1930s and 1940s an evil regime, inspired by the relativist ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, sought to breed a master race, practicing eugenics to eliminate those it considered subhuman (untermenschen), including the weak and the disabled. Today, many countries have resurrected the dark days of the past, using eugenics to exterminate “unfit” human beings in the womb.
In Iceland, according to a report on CBS in August of last year, a final solution to the problem of children with Down syndrome has been found. In that country, which has clearly slipped back into the dark ages of eugenic barbarism, all children with Downs are systematically exterminated in the womb. About 85 percent of expectant mothers undergo prenatal testing, and close to 100 percent of those women choose to abort if their child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Only two children with Down syndrome are born in Iceland each year. What are we to make of a culture in which almost every mother chooses to kill her own baby if the child in the womb is disabled?
Although Iceland might be the worst, things aren’t much better elsewhere. In Europe as a whole, 92 percent of mothers choose to “terminate” their child with Down syndrome, while in the United Kingdom the figure is 90 percent. Things are marginally better in the United States where more than two-thirds of women choose to give their child death instead of life, though some studies indicate that as many as 90 percent of American women make this dark choice.
In France a pro-life video was banned by the government because it shows children and adults with Down syndrome speaking cheerfully of the happy lives they’re living. The sight of smiling children was deemed offensive because it might “disturb the conscience” of those who chose to exterminate their own child with Downs. Again, what are we to make of a culture in which the government encourages women to kill their own “unfit” children but won’t allow anything to “disturb their consciences”?
In truth, and now it’s confession time, this whole issue is very close to home for me and my family because our own son, Leo, has Down syndrome. He is the happiest and most carefree member of the family – and a veritable joy at the very heart of our home. I have many photographs of him smiling sweetly, which I would presumably be banned from publishing in France. He is happy and we are happy because we have chosen to love him and accept him. He is a gift, not in any trite sense of the word, but in the real sense that we have been given something very special which has changed all our lives for the better. Leo is a pearl of great price because he is a pearl of wisdom, not his own wisdom, which his disability prevents him from having, but in the wisdom that he has bestowed upon us by being who he is.
I am reminded of the words of someone who told me that most of us are here to learn but some of us are here to teach. Those with Down syndrome are here to teach. We have learned so much from our son about the meaning of love, and the blessings that come from the sacrifices that love demands. Without him we would be so much the poorer because we would not have the riches of wisdom that he has given us.
I thank God for the gift of our son, Leo Patrick Pearce, a gift that my wife and I don’t deserve. Domine, non sum dignus. Lord, I am not worthy that you should have bestowed such a wonderful gift on me, a sinner. Might I praise you every day for your goodness to me, my wife and our daughter in giving us such a blessing.
This article was first published in Legatus Magazine.