She Has Down Syndrome But Swam the English Channel and She’s the First to Receive an Honorary Doctorate

International   |   Life Institute   |   Jun 28, 2017   |   12:22PM   |   Dublin, Ireland

On Saturday,  a leading advocate for people with Down Syndrome, Karen Gaffney, will address a massive rally in Dublin city centre.

A long distance swimmer who relay swam the English Channel, and an impressive and witty public speaker, Ms Gaffney  is the first living person with Down Syndrome to receive an honorary doctorate.

She has captured global attention, not only for her personal achievements but for her work on inclusion for people with Down Syndrome and her challenge to a culture where babies with Down Syndrome are increasingly aborted before birth.  Her message to the world is that All Lives Matter, and she challenges the trend which is eliminating people with Down Syndrome before they are born.

“Imagine that here we are reversing the damage caused by institutions, removing barriers to education, making inroads  into a full and inclusive life for people like me, and still we have those who say we shouldn’t even be born at all,”  Ms Gaffney told an audience at a Ted Talk in Portland.

She says that people with Down Syndrome were now achieving success as “musicians and artists, golfers, models, public speakers, and good employees making a contribution to society” but that the race was on to find newer, faster ways to diagnose the condition before birth and that those pregnancies were all-too-often terminated.

“I believe that Down Syndrome is a life worth saying ‘yes’ to. It is a life worth saving. Every life has value, every life matters, regardless of how many chromosomes you have,” she says.

On July 1st, she will share that message with tens of thousands of people at the Rally for Life in Dublin city centre.  The rally comes at a time when Ireland’s protection of the right to life of preborn children is under serious threat, and an Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said that a referendum on abortion will be held next year.

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Polls show that Irish people are increasingly concerned about what legalising abortion means for people with disabilities, with 90% of babies with Down Syndrome in Britain now aborted before birth. In Iceland, that figure reached a heart-breaking 100% recently.

The latest opinion poll on abortion, Ipsos/MRBI for the Irish Times, showed that support for abortion on disability grounds had fallen significantly – down to 36% in the newspaper’s poll, in contrast to support of 61% registered in a Newstalk/Red C poll in January 2016.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Rally for Life Committee said that they were particularly pleased and honoured to have Karen Gaffney speaking at the rally and that the shift in public opinion was due to the fact that people with disabilities and their families had made their voices heard in the public square.

“The stark truth is that abortion is facilitating the most lethal form of discrimination for people with disabilities, and their voices must be heard in this debate. The 8th amendment protects the lives of all children – with any disability or none –  and this rally gives a platform to those who are urging people to consider that every life has value,” she said.

Huge crowds are expected at the rally on July 1st, beginning at 2pm at Parnell Square. “There’s a huge buzz building about the Save the 8th rally, we’re inundated with calls and queries and are expecting a massive crowd,” said Ms Uí Bhriain. “People are welcoming an opportunity to come out and show their support for the right to life of both mother and baby, and to show the nation that the pro-life majority is on the move.”