Last night, 60 Minutes Australia aired a segment discussing prenatal testing and the termination of those with Down syndrome. The fact that this is even a discussion is so sad to me. Some of the language and questions really highlighted the ignorance that is out there, and it brought a lot of thoughts that I usually try to push aside to the forefront of my mind. And so, I want to introduce you to a word that you may not have heard of: ableism.
If you haven't heard that word, it means prejudging a human being as less valuable because of their disability, because they are different than you. It is the same as racism or sexism. So many people I know are fighting (and rightly so) against social injustices based on race, religion, sex, etc, and yet I see almost no one speaking out against the atrocity that is ableism, and not just ableism, but ableism in the form of eugenics. Can you imagine if more than half of the US were aborting their babies because they were women? If a country bragged that by 2030, they would be rid of their LGBT community? (Denmark has bragged about eliminating Down syndrome) Parents with disabled children are still having to fight against segregation in the classroom, even though studies have shown that inclusion is beneficial for all students. 95% of disabled characters on TV are played by able-bodied actors. Hmm?
Yesterday, a woman died protesting racism in America. This is horrendous, absolutely disgusting. Also, babies are being killed all over the world, all the time, only because their genetic makeup is a little different than most, ableism in it's most dramatic form. While I cannot judge a woman who makes this decision, because society has so deeply ingrained in us all that the disabled are not as valuable as the typically developing population, and because people have been convinced that a disabled person has a lower quality of life than the general population and should be pitied (myself included in the past), it does not change the fact that this decision to abort is usually made out of fear and ignorance. This is a serious, terrible issue and yet people are mostly silent about it. Is this because they aren't aware of it? Or is it because deep down, secretly or not-so-secretly, most people agree that the world is better off without people with Down syndrome, without the disabled. I think we can figure out the answer to this question by looking at the statistics.
Here is the truth. My daughter's quality of life is just as good as the next person, and she has greatly enhanced the quality of life of all those who know and love her. She may take longer to do things that come naturally to others. She may need extra help along the way. She is also an amazing HUMAN BEING as worthy of life and love as anyone else. Why a person thinks they have a right to measure the value of another based on these external variables, weigh it against the value of themselves, and determine the other person less than, is beyond me. Racism, sexism, ableism, all prejudice and hate is a problem, and the heart of all of these problems is the heart of man. We would all do well to search our hearts, to begin to untangle the lies we've bought, and to be rid of the illusion that we are separate from each other for any reason. By the way, the disabled are the largest minority in the world, and any one of us could join that minority at any time.
"Oh God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You... Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is Love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen." -Thomas Merton