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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

They "learn slowly but love deeply..."

It's likely that many of you know of Tom Vander Woude, left, former Christendom College athletic director and father of seven boys (including a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, VA), who died on Monday while saving the life of his youngest son, Joseph. "Josie," as he's called, is 20 years old and has Down syndrome. Seeing that Josie had fallen into a septic tank on the Vander Woude property, Tom jumped in after him and held his son's head above the muck for 15-20 minutes while he was drowning underneath. Josie survived, but remains in intensive care with double pneumonia and the threat of further infection.

The Washington Post ran a front page story about Tom's heroic act of selflessness today, and a number of blogs and talking heads have commented on it. Standing on its own, this is a life-affirming story of a father's unconditional love for his son that merits the attention it has received. But part of me believes that what pushed Tom's story from the back pages of the Post to the front page is the fact that Josie has Down syndrome. And in a society where 90% of Down syndrome children are killed before they ever see the light of day, Tom's act of love becomes an even more powerful witness to the value of every human life, regardless of the number of chromosomes one has.

This brings to mind a second article published today...a withering condemnation of the eugenics mindset that prefers the elimination of the weakest members of society rather than their protection. An excerpt is below, but the entire piece is a must-read:
Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by pre-natal testing each year, about 90 percent are eliminated by abortion. Last year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended universal, early testing for Down syndrome -- not just for older pregnant women. Some expect this increased screening to reduce the number of Down syndrome births far lower than the 5,500 we see today, perhaps to less than 1,000.

The wrenching diagnosis of 47 chromosomes must seem to parents like the end of a dream instead of the beginning of a life. But children born with Down syndrome -- who learn slowly but love deeply -- are generally not experienced by their parents as a curse but as a complex blessing. And when allowed to survive, men and women with an extra chromosome experience themselves as people with abilities, limits and rights. Yet when Down syndrome is detected through testing, many parents report that genetic counselors and physicians emphasize the difficulties of raising a disabled child and urge abortion.

This is properly called eugenic abortion -- the ending of "imperfect" lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of the disabled. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption -- "Didn't you get an amnio?" -- and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependant are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.

Please keep Tom Vander Woude, his son Josie, and his entire family in your prayers. And please do what you can to spread the word about problems with genetic screenings before birth.