Making the rounds on the internet this week is a story from CBS News titled, “What kind of society do you want to live in?” The story has gained much attention in recent days, and one reason it has garnered so many clicks and shares is its compelling featured image—the photo that displays when the hyperlink is shared on social media. The image depicts a seven-year-old girl, Agusta, sitting by the falls of a frigid Iceland river in her toboggan and winter coat. With only a glance at her photo, two things immediately become clear: Agusta is a precious little girl, and she has Down syndrome. But surprisingly, Agusta is one of the few children in Iceland with the genetic disorder. According to the article’s subtitle, in Iceland, “Down Syndrome is disappearing.”
Eradicating Down Syndrome births
At first this seems to be an achievement worthy of celebration. There is no question that people with Down Syndrome face challenges and limitations that negatively affect their lives. As the article reports, “Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues.” Were this a medical innovation, we might deem it miraculous. But as the article reports, the precipitous decline in Down Syndrome births, not only in Iceland, but in nations across Europe and North America, can be attributed to no such innovation. Instead, it is the result of sympathetic barbarism.
With the advent of prenatal screening, a mother can now elect to have her child tested for genetic defects while still in utero. As a consequence, a positive result indicating the presence of such a defect usually ends in abortion—67 percent of the time in the United States, though this pales in comparison to Iceland’s nearly 100 percent “termination” rate. Yet the practice is defended on humanitarian grounds as an act of compassion. In such cases, aborting a child with Down Syndrome is often dismissed as nothing more than the termination of a “possible life” in order to prevent “suffering for the child and the family.” But contrary to the article’s claims, this does not represent the “disappearance” of Down Syndrome. No, this attempt to eradicate Down Syndrome births is nothing less than the systematic extermination of an entire group of people. This is a silent genocide.
And there is an ugly truth behind this practice; this is not about compassion or mercy. Having Down Syndrome doesn’t make a person less than human. So let us be honest about it. Western society has determined to sanction the deaths of innocent people because we do not believe they deserve to live, despite the fact that it is not uncommon for people born with Down Syndrome to “live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.” The truth is, this isn’t about alleviating their suffering; it’s about our idolatry and self-interest. Instead of recognizing their dignity and value, we sanction their deaths by the thousands in pursuit of a “better world.”
Having Down Syndrome doesn’t make a person less than human.
What kind of world, indeed
People with Down Syndrome are people. A chromosome abnormality is hardly cause to deny a person’s humanity—regardless of its effects. And this alone should be enough for our society to abruptly end this horrific practice. In a culture obsessed with judgment, we should ask how we could possibly condemn these innocent victims. Who knows what joy their lives could hold? Who could speak for the inestimable value of their potential?
What kind of world, indeed, could be realized through the elimination of the vulnerable? We know what kind. It is the kind sought in the eugenics of Margaret Sanger.
Christians recognize that every person—regardless of how healthy or normal—bears the image of God. We also understand that the promise of a new world comes only through the work of Christ. We must stand and dissent with a message that is simple and clear: This is not treatment, but extermination. These individuals matter, and taking their lives will not produce a better world.
Facing the reality of systematic genocide
There is no gentle way to say this, abortion is violence against the innocent. If our culture is willing to subject people with Down Syndrome or other genetic defects to such cruelty and excuse it in the name of compassion, Christians must have the courage to speak for those who have no voice. And beyond even that, we must be willing to hold up the mirror for the world to see itself.
Seeking to eliminate Down Syndrome—through the abortion of innocent babies—is itself a betrayal of our own humanity. We are talking about killing people because they have a disability. This is not a problem of the slippery slope. We shouldn’t be asking where to draw the line. We should be asking how we allowed ourselves to determine that some people aren’t worthy of life. This is barbarism, and we should be outraged.
We can live in a world where those outside the church speak of abortion as the termination of pregnancy. We can live in a world where the systematic extermination of the disabled is glossed over in the name of progress. But as the people of Christ, we will never accept it. We will be the people who protect the vulnerable, shelter the unwanted, and care for the least of these. In the name of Christ, we will fight against this evil because we have another message. Jesus loves the little children, including those like Agusta. They are precious in his sight. He loves all the children, indeed, each and every one.