In a moving account of the life of his son, pro-life columnist George Will shares anecdotes about John Will, who turns 40 years-old this week but has enjoyed every minute of living despite having Down syndrome.
When Jonathan Frederick Will was born 40 years ago — on May 4, 1972, his father’s 31st birthday — the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome was about 20 years. That is understandable.
The day after Jon was born, a doctor told Jon’s parents that the first question for them was whether they intended to take Jon home from the hospital.
Nonplussed, they said they thought that is what parents do with newborns. Not doing so was, however, still considered an acceptable choice for parents who might prefer to institutionalize or put up for adoption children thought to have necessarily bleak futures. Whether warehoused or just allowed to languish from lack of stimulation and attention, people with Down syndrome, not given early and continuing interventions, were generally thought to be incapable of living well, and hence usually did not live as long as they could have.
Although John Will was born eight months before Roe v Wade and survived becoming another abortion statistic, George Will says abortion continues to target the disabled.
This era has coincided, not just coincidentally, with the full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby. So today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.
Which is unfortunate, and not just for them. Judging by Jon, the world would be improved by more people with Down syndrome, who are quite nice, as humans go. It is said we are all born brave, trusting and greedy, and remain greedy. People with Down syndrome must remain brave in order to navigate society’s complexities. They have no choice but to be trusting because, with limited understanding, and limited abilities to communicate misunderstanding, they, like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” always depend on the kindness of strangers. Judging by Jon’s experience, they almost always receive it.
Will has an excellent point about the level of happiness for those who have Down syndrome. Researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston surveyed families where a member had Down Syndrome and found that Down Syndrome is a positive. From MSNBC.com:
The Reillys represent some of the experiences reported in three surveys conducted by doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston that suggest the reality of Down syndrome is positive for a vast majority of parents, siblings and people with Down syndrome themselves.
Among 2,044 parents or guardians surveyed, 79 percent reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome….
Skotko also found that among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome. A third study evaluating how adults with Down syndrome felt about themselves reports 99 percent responded they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they looked.
So once again the culture of death distorts the truth by suggesting that parents are doing the right thing by killing their Down Syndrome child. The culture of death says, “Better dead than have Downs.” But 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report they are happy with their lives.