Even if these statistics are slightly off, they support the tragic truth that babies determined to have Down syndrome are often aborted in the United States and abroad. But why? Through conversations with people, many of whom are pro-choice, I’m told it’s because of the poor quality of life that one would endure if brought into the world with DS. It’s said those with DS (or a similar disability) would have a lower quality of life and therefore would be better off if they were never born. That is a tragic conclusion not based on truth. In this article, I hope to confront the practice of aborting babies with DS through two arguments.
My Sister, Heather
The first argument is a beautiful person named Heather. She is my sister. Heather was born in 1978 with Down Syndrome, a chromosomal condition that often results in mental retardation and impairment in physical growth as well. Heather has both and recently underwent her fourth open-heart surgery to repair damage that has resulted from her condition.
Heather is a person—and not just a person, but a lovely human being, one of my favorites. She has a remarkably sweet disposition, and I challenge anyone to try to not like her. She’s full of joy, loves life, and blesses everyone she knows. When I found out in college that she was undergoing a third open-heart surgery, I wept for days. Why? Because I love her and because I can’t imagine my life without her.
So, the first way I want to confront the practice of killing children with DS is to say that we must not assume they will have a lower quality of life because of their disease. Let Heather be an example. With all of the anxiety, anger, and bitterness that has come and gone in my heart through the years, I can guarantee you that Heather has a much higher quality of life than I do. She has smiled more, laughed more, and missed out on much of life's sorrow. And she is no exception. I have found that men and women with DS seem to find more joy in life than most other people walking the earth.
A second argument against this terrible practice is that we have no right to kill a person simply because we believe they will have a lower quality of life. We don't apply this same standard to people outside the womb. We wouldn’t vote for a government program to kill all people with disabilities. No one would say that what Hitler did was right. And yet, we live in a world where 59 percent to 92 percent of all children with DS are killed before they even have a chance to breathe. This is wrong. And these poor helpless babies cannot defend themselves.
The reality of the matter is that we are not killing babies with DS for their benefit, but for ours. I won’t deny that raising a child with DS is difficult. With most children you need to invest 18 years. But Heather still lives at home; she always will. She has required special diets, special exercises, and numerous visits to doctors, surgeons, and hospitals. When she was born, my family struggled financially.
But even this struggle, for the Christian, should not matter. Christ calls us to deny ourselves and even be willing to lose our lives. In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
When God calls a woman to bear a child with DS, he's not calling her to something different from the selfless sacrifice expected of all believers. Christ told us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. And what’s to gain? Christ. Being a brother and not a father, I was part of most of the joys of raising Heather and made few of the sacrifices. My mother has made clear that abortion was never an option for her, and my parents rejoice to have chosen life for Heather.
So what’s gained in being obedient to God? Not just the joy of Heather, but also the joy of Christ. Living for oneself, it’s true, may profit the whole world. But in the end? Everything is lost. However, if we give up everything for Christ’s sake, everything is gained.
James 4:2 tells us, “You desire and do not have, so you murder.” We’ve desired ease, and when something or someone stands in the way, we have murdered. Aborted DS babies are just one clear example of this evil. Let today be the day children are no longer killed for the pursuit of an easier life. Let us instead consider these children as more important than ourselves. Let them live—and do it for joy. Do it for the joy of obedience, for nothing in this world rivals that kind of joy.
To my parents who have modeled so well this kind of sacrificial obedience: Thank you for not killing my sister. And thank you for giving her the perfect middle name—Joy—for that’s exactly what she is and exactly what she brings.