NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - Across the globe, abortion rates for Down syndrome babies are skyrocketing; in the wake of these grim statistics, one man with the condition is reminding the world of their inherent dignity as human beings.
In the leadup to the March 21 celebration of World Down Syndrome Day 2018, advocate John Franklin Stephens is defending the humanity of people with Down syndrome by emphasizing his own.
"I am a man," Stephens told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last week. "See me as a human being, not a birth defect, not a syndrome. I don't need to be eradicated. I don't need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped."
"What should that help be?" he asked. "Provide training to parents and babies as soon as possible. Provide medical care ... Send us to school with everyone else. Provide job training and coaches until we learn to work on our own. Most of all, expect competence, not failure."
"By the way," he added, "the cost to the rest of you of providing that help is the cost of a single cup of coffee per month." (An important point, as those pushing abortion of Down syndrome babies commonly argue they "cost" society too much to justify allowing them to live.)
Reflecting on the richness of his own life, Stephens testified that "a life with Down syndrome can be as full and exciting as any other."
But this is a minority view. Since the introduction of prenatal testing, Down syndrome babies have been decimated by abortion, as many doctors, nurses and parents judge their quality of life too low. This view, pro-life advocates warn, is a revival of the Nazi concept of Lebensunwertes Leben — "life unworthy of life."
Recognizing this trend, last week Stephens drew parallels to the 20th-century eugenics movement.
"How would the world react if a nation proclaimed that it would use genomic testing to make itself 'unpopular ethnic minority free' by 2030?" he asked. "The U.N. has a name for this, but we need not go there."
"Genomic research is not going to stop at screening for Down syndrome," he added. "We have an opportunity right now to slow down and think about the ethics of deciding that certain humans do not get a chance at life."
In Iceland, the rate is virtually 100 percent. Since launching its genetic screening program more than a decade ago, Icelandic medical authorities have detected and killed all but a handful of unborn Down syndrome children. Up to 85 percent of women agree to have their pregnancies screened, and almost all abort their child if he or she tests positive for the condition. An average of just one or two Down syndrome babies is born each year in the country; typically, these cases are simply not "caught" during the screening process.
Even U.N. human rights leaders — men and women tasked with safeguarding human rights globally — are not immune from eugenic thinking.
"I myself am an ardent defender of the handicapped," Ben Achour asserted. "But that does not mean that we have to accept letting a disabled fetus live."
Stephens, along with his allies, aims to stem the tide of such thinking. "Let us decide from this day forward to include, not exclude; educate, not isolate; and celebrate, not terminate," he urged his U.N. audience.