Recently I had occasion to reflect more profoundly on the difference made in the life of a family that has just welcomed the birth of a little baby with Down syndrome. Of course, it is not the first time that I have done so, but somehow this occasion triggered a cascade of earlier memories and experiences whereby truths I had almost taken for granted came into sharp relief.
Let us call this little baby John (to maintain his absolute anonymity). John was born the sixth child of an exquisitely admirable family in the South East of Ireland. The father and mother are both involved in the world of music, particularly for inspirational purposes. The father happens to be a former student of mine. What struck me especially was not the fact that in his first few weeks after birth baby John faced a series of medical challenges that would cause sleepless nights for any couple. Nor was it the reaction of his parents when they intermittently asked for prayers of either thanksgiving or petition according as the latest news was favourable or not. The most salient feeling I had was awe at the pure and utter love that was evident in the words and photos shown by the parents. It was patently obvious that it was the same love they daily shower upon their other five children and that in turn reflects back from these kids towards their youngest little sibling.
This experience evoked in me related observations and encounters, some involving young people with Down syndrome, some to do with those who have other medical conditions that pose similar challenges. I think of the young man (let’s call him Will) who served me in a popular restaurant chain some years ago in the Philippines. He had Down syndrome and was clearly either working there or being given valuable work experience.
I think of the little girl called Angel from a very poor family that I am privileged to know and take a small part in supporting; Angel does not have DS but has multiple health conditions from almost total blindness to Autism. However, the symbiotic relationship of mutual adoration between Angel and her Mom tells one all one needs to know about the value of her existence. I think of a little three-year old girl called Daisy in England whose life and adventures as a girl with an extra chromosome are recounted with hilarious and heart-warming stories, photos and videos by her besotted Mum – you can follow her on Facebook too on her Mum’s page “Fresh as Daisy.”
Sometimes we can of course stereotype kids with Down syndrome (or other conditions) to suggest that they are always happy and smiling and bereft of emotional frailties. That too would be a mistake. Yet I think any of us who know kids or adults with DS will agree that the world would be a more hospitable and uplifting place if those with DS (or indeed any of those who are differently abled) were allowed to have a major say in how we organize it.
I think what makes me ponder more of late on the magic of kids and young adults with DS or other challenging conditions is the mushrooming of calls for all kinds of inclusivity from certain quarters in Ireland. Many of these calls are at the very least questionable on grounds of science or reason or common sense. Readers will be aware that the National Women’s Council of Ireland has been increasingly accused by many of refusing to represent women who feel that the whole transgender movement has deprived biological women of fair representation. The furore surrounding the Joe Duffy programmes recently threw an interesting light on the stance of the NCWI. Yet the same NCWI, as recently as 6 April 2022, was reported as calling for abortion to be “available to everyone up until viability, with no gestational restrictions.”
Let that sink in. There would be effectively no definite limit on when the life of a baby boy or girl could be ended given that the actual stage of viability of any particular preborn child might not be possible to exactly determine. This is especially true because of recent technological advances in neonatal care. One can have fully developed newborns struggle to stay alive and at the same time premature babies thrive with routine neonatal supports. So much for inclusivity by the NCWI! The very right to life of preborn girls and boys denied point blank while the same NCWI bends over backwards to widen the venn diagram of “woman” to illogical proportions lest any transgender adult be denied the right to call her/himself “a woman.”
We also read recently that British abortion figures newly released show that 59 Irish babies diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome were aborted in England and Wales last year. Given the almost total “eradication” of Down syndrome in countries such as the UK and Iceland through the abortion of babies so diagnosed, and given the calls from those such as the NCWI for the widening of grounds for abortion in Ireland, my heart goes out to the Irish baby Johns and the Daisys that I may never get to love and admire if this philosophy gains ground. What kind of “inclusivity” is it if the right to be called whatever gender one wants to be called or the right to “transition” at an age that is highly questionable even from the perspective of maturity is heralded as progressivism while baby girls and boys are divested of the name of “human person” while still in their mother’s womb?
It certainly is not a society wherein I would feel included. It would be a very “woke world” that brandishes the name of inclusivity rather than truly embracing the concept. A woke world without baby John, Will, Angel or Daisy would be the most exclusive, unhappiest world imaginable and I hope I never live to see it.