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Combating the dogged persistence of prejudice against children with Down syndrome

by | Sep 30, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

Celebration: Domenica with her parents, Rosa and Dominic

Celebration: Domenica with her parents, Rosa and Dominic

My wife helps out at a preschool in a class for special needs children. She has told me more than once how teachers there have remarked how many fewer children with Down syndrome they now see in school.

I thought of those conversations when I read about the truly dumb, heartless comment made by a former member of a British reality TV show on the occasion of the 20th birthday of Domenica Lawson, the goddaughter of the late Princess Diana.

In a since deleted Facebook post Ursula Presgrave wrote

Anyone born with down syndrome should be put down, it’s just cruel to let them lead a pointless life of a vegetable.

Many others, including Domenica herself, responded to Presgrave’s tasteless and anachronistic slur. But in the coverage, readers were reminded of the column her father, Dominic Lawson, wrote for the Daily Mail on the occasion of his daughter’s 19th birthday.

I re-read it and thought how brilliantly Mr. Lawson rejected the tiresome but lethal stereotypes about people with Down syndrome.

What struck me–as is so often the case with manifestations of the anti-life ethos–is how typically frozen in time the underlying “facts” are. But then it occurred to me those are only placeholders, to be dropped when they think the time is ripe for the real agenda to appear. It reminded me of the case for physician-assisted suicide.

Even now, when all the data points out that fear of pain is not even one of the top five or ten reasons people cite, pain is offered as a justification for “assisting” someone to die.

Of course, fear of pain was always nothing more than a way of getting a foot in the door. The argument is rapidly morphing into an unabashed insistence that anyone for any reason should be “helped” to die–safeguards and whatnot be damned.

Domenica Lawson presents a posy to Queen Elizabeth at the opening of a fountain built in memory of Princess Diana in London's Hyde Park in July 2004

Domenica Lawson presents a posy to Queen Elizabeth at the opening of a fountain built in memory of Princess Diana in London’s Hyde Park in July 2004

Likewise, all the old noxious talking points for aborting babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are woefully out of date, as Dominic Lawson explained in his piece.

People with Down syndrome are happier with their lives than the rest of us are. They live longer lives than they did just a decade or so ago. The major medical issue– “a hole in the heart, has long been routinely corrected by early surgery,” Lawson explained.

He also cites Dr. Brian Skotko, of Children’s Hospital Boston, who reported in a 2011 article in the American Journal of Medical Genetic that “The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed report that they are happy with their decision to have their child with DS and indicate that their sons and daughters are great sources of love and pride.”

So if the kids are happy, the parents are happy, the siblings are happy, how can someone talk about “putting down” a child with Down syndrome like you would a sick puppy?

I don’t know anything about Ms. Presgrave but what she posted is a reminder that there will always be a slice of the population (hopefully diminishing) that is unnerved by imperfection–or at least their understanding of what is “imperfect.”

Meanwhile Domenica lives her life to the hilt, made even better last year when she found a beau. Her father wrote at the time

So I am pleased to say that Domenica now does have a ‘boyfriend’, a delightful 19-year-old with a shock of red hair called Daniel. He too has Down’s syndrome.

He is also playing the title role of Barnaby Rudge in the current BBC Radio 4 classic serial of that novel by Charles Dickens.

Dickens had a special feel for those we call disabled, and Barnaby Rudge was one of those characters. It is imaginative of the BBC to cast a young man with Down’s to play someone with disabilities.

It is also a shattering rebuke to those who think people with Down’s syndrome are not fit to live in the first place.

Categories: Down Syndrome