Masterpieces of God’s creation: Every life deserves respect, including children with Down syndrome Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Oct. 02, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
respect life poster

Perhaps one of the saddest things I’ve heard in recent memory is what atheist Richard Dawkins said about children with Down syndrome.

On Twitter in August, Dawkins said that an unborn baby with Down syndrome should be aborted and that it would be “immoral to bring it into the world.”

Dawkins was debating this issue with some of his one million Twitter followers. When one of his followers tweeted, “I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down’s syndrome. Real ethical dilemma,” Dawkins replied, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

I first heard about Dawkins’ remarks on Facebook from someone I know who has a son with Down syndrome. She was horrified by what Dawkins said, since her son is a wonderful person and an important part of her family.

After delving into this matter further, I found some information about Down syndrome and what has been happening with the screening of pregnant women. I feel more people should be aware of these issues and talk about them with their family members and friends.

Down syndrome and genetic testing

Down syndrome is defined as  a chromosomal disorder caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. Usually Down syndrome comes with impaired cognitive ability and physical growth. The disorder can also include a higher risk for congenital heart defects, gastroesophageal reflux disease, ear infections, obstructive sleep apnea, and thyroid dysfunctions.

Many doctors encourage pregnant women to have genetic testing for Down syndrome, especially if they are 35 years or older. When I was pregnant, women did not generally have any genetic testing done.

However, I have talked with women in more recent years about this matter. Some of them refuse to get tested, saying that it wouldn’t make a difference to them. They would keep their baby no matter what.

A problem with testing is that the results can be inaccurate. Some studies have revealed that with ultrasound and blood tests, one in 20 women will have a positive result — far more than those who actually deliver a baby with a chromosomal abnormality.

Another problem is that doctors who learn that a woman may be carrying a baby with Down syndrome often portray a “gloom and doom” scenario to the parents. If medical professionals and health care workers had a more positive attitude towards Down syndrome pregnancy, some believe the abortion rate would drop (article, “Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus,” in The New York Times, May 9, 2007, by  Amy Harmon).

With screening of pregnant women, it is estimated that anywhere from 82 to 90 percent of unborn babies prediagnosed with Down syndrome are being aborted. Some parents of these babies say they would prefer to terminate the pregnancy rather than have the child suffer. This is an extreme response, in my opinion. None of us knows what will happen to any child!

Children are ‘masterpieces’

The children I know with Down syndrome are loved by their parents, siblings, relatives, and friends. They are often the friendliest kids in their neighborhood and school. Everyone gets acquainted with them — and they love to hug!

A beautiful little girl with Down syndrome is pictured on the poster for this year’s Respect Life Month observance sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It has a quote from Pope Francis, “Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation.” If only everyone would remember these words and take them to heart.

I should mention that Richard Dawkins has since expressed “regret” for his remarks, saying that they reflected his personal opinion and he did not intend to cause “upset” to people with Down syndrome or their families.

Perhaps it’s too little, too late, but maybe even Richard Dawkins might be learning. And if he can appreciate those masterpieces of God’s creation, maybe he will begin to believe in the Creator.