Creating a Culture of Life that Values Everyone
Shortly after my daughter was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I learned something that made me physically ill. 80-93% of all children diagnosed prenatally with Down’s are aborted.
The secular world doesn’t find this statistic shocking, and as I’ve grown accustomed to it, frankly, neither do I. As prolifers, we’d like to blame the “culture of death,” and that certainly plays a part. But I think there’s more to it than that.
I was a cradle Catholic, born to prolife work. But knowing abortion is wrong is the simplest part of being prolife. I attended a parochial school that couldn’t handle kids with disabilities. In my first thirteen years I never met a person with a disability, let alone got to know them.
In high school, I discovered I had a Catholic classmate with a physical disability. I should have known him, but I didn’t. And here’s where it gets uncomfortable. I never could interact with him naturally. I believed that a person’s value is independent of his or her abilities, but because I had been isolated from the disabled population, I could not behave accordingly.
To this day I writhe in shame at the ugliness of that statement, but I own it because I suspect I’m not the only one in this position. Something about disability makes us uncomfortable. We’re afraid to touch people with disabilities. Afraid to talk to them, lest in our ignorance and discomfort we make them feel bad. It seems easier to pretend they aren’t there, to let our eyes slide past and not engage. We don’t protest when children are segregated behind the special ed wall. It simplifies life, and besides, kids’ educational needs have to be met, right?
The problem is, we don’t look for other opportunities for our children to interact with their “differently-abled” peers. As a result, generations of people grow up without any meaningful interaction with people who have disabilities.
So it’s not all that surprising that a diagnosis of Down syndrome, with its laundry list of potential medical and developmental issues, so often leads to abortion. After all, so many people have not been steeped in the belief that one’s worth is unconnected to their abilities. If they have no personal experience to offset the “scary bad,” the inertia must seem irresistible.
So now comes the really hard question: what do we do about it? Here are a few ideas:
- Get to know kids with special needs in your children’s schools. Invite them for birthday parties and play dates. Get to know their parents. Be frank about what you do and don’t know. Ask what accommodations need to be made to allow their child positive interactions with yours — and make the accommodations.
- When you see a parent and child at the mall or the playground, interact with them. Occasionally, you’ll be rebuffed, but most parents of kids with special needs are eager to make connections. They know their children’s future depends on others “getting” their kids.
- At church, interact with adults in wheelchairs the way you would with anyone else. If speech is slurred or difficult to understand, slow down and take the time to figure it out. Touch them, shake hands, meet their eyes. This is how we treat them with dignity.
- Support inclusion in your kids’ schools. Not every parent wants it; not every child is best served by it. But a default status in which “normal” kids inhabit one reality and “disabled” kids another breeds isolation and ignorance.
This is hard stuff. I know. Five years ago, every item on this list was way outside my comfort zone. But the way to create a culture that values everyone, regardless of circumstance, is to begin right here, in our own hearts and homes.
Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, liturgical composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display at www.kathleenbasi.com.