“Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion,” the CBS News tweet read.
It was an effective tease: I clicked the link.
The report told the story of the near 100 percent pregnancy termination rate that’s developed in Iceland when prenatal genetic testing reveals a likelihood of chromosomal abnormality that could result Down syndrome.
Concretely, it means one, maybe two, or in an exceptional year, three babies with extra chromosomes are afforded the luxury of birth in Iceland each year. In the United States, that number is about 6,000, with termination rates following abnormal prenatal testing around the two-thirds mark. The story purports that the diminished number of Down syndrome births in Iceland translates into a near eradication of the condition in the country.
It’s a claim that’s horrifically untrue.
Terminating pregnancies more likely to result in babies with Down syndrome doesn’t mean anyone is curing the condition. Extra chromosomes are still attaching themselves to DNA strands inside thousands of wombs around the world, every single day.
What it means is that an increased number of babies with Down syndrome are being murdered.
That’s not scientific advancement—that’s thinly veiled eugenics.
Think back to the not-so-distant past when millions of people were massacred because their genetics didn’t line up with what certain people in power deemed ideal. Olive skin? Something other than blue eyes? There was a gas chamber waiting to eliminate the “problem” you represented.
We shudder at the inhumanity of that today, of course, because it’s what decency requires. We shake our heads and insist there will never again be a time in human history when we devalue the lives of those who might be different from us so garishly. We couldn’t imagine purposefully decimating entire populations.
But, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in Iceland?
In celebrating this type of population control, we’re assigning differing value to human life. A baby with Down syndrome grows into a child with Down syndrome, who matures into an adult with Down syndrome. Put him next to a baby, a child, an adult with the typical number of chromosomes, and one is assigned more intrinsic value than the other, based solely on one genetic difference.
Guess what? Both of them are humans.
But we’re killing one of them because society suggests he’s less valuable than the other, and applauding it as medical advancement.
I don’t know about you, but that disgusts me.
When I look at my four children—“normal” by genetic standards—I shudder to think of them developing a sense that they matter more than children with special needs. What I want them to know instead, what my husband and I work every day to teach them, is that all lives matter.
The girl behind us in church with the uncharacteristically round face who makes funny sounds and hugs strangers? Her life has value.
The boy who sits in a wheelchair, waving hands bent at unnatural angles and never speaks a coherent word? His life has value.
The baby who gets her meals through a tube curling into her belly? Her life has value.
The man who communicates through sign language and reads lips? His life has value.
The woman who wears sunglasses as she holds the lead of a seeing eye dog? Her life has value.
The teenager who rocks back and forth with his hands over his ears when he hears loud noises? His life has value.
The toddler who has hearing aids attached to her ears as she runs laughing around the playground? Her life has value.
The elderly woman who asks the same question five times in five minutes and still can’t remember the answer? Her life has value.
All of us have something that makes us “less desirable” in someone else’s eyes.
All of our lives have value.
Today, what some celebrated modern cultures brag about eliminating might be Down syndrome. What if it’s left handedness, or curly hair, or autism tomorrow? That’s not a world that sounds like its advancing in its humanity to me. That’s a world that’s trying to eliminate the differences that make us beautiful and inspiring and human.
I’m going to continue teaching my children to know the value of all lives.
Won’t you join me?