Killing the best of us

Killing the best of us

What do you call it when a whole class of human beings is systematically marked for termination? Would calling it genocide be out of line?

A little boy who lived only 99 days yet lived a fuller life than most because of the love that surrounded him and his undeniable witness to the glory of God.

If it's not out of line, then that’s what’s I say is happening to the “genetically imperfect” in our society. Ninety percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted. No, let’s not use the euphemism: They’re killed. And with the new obstetrical recommendations, even more are going to die.

Until this year, only pregnant women 35 and older were routinely tested to see if their fetuses had the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. As a result many couples were given the diagnosis only at birth. But under a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a new, safer screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age.

We hardly see them anymore, not because they’re hidden away in institutions, but because they’re marked for elimination. But if you’re old enough to have met someone with Down syndrome, what do you recall about them? Is it the smile? Is it the simple joy at just being?

I’m reminded of Diogenes’ “Letter to a Lebensunwertes Leben” in which he paid tribute to a young Irish woman with Down syndrome at a memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II in 2005.

In a curiously final way, most of what I consider noblest about the just-ended pontificate finds expression in your pleasingly unpleasing face.

For starters, you exist. That itself is no small achievement. There are a lot of very rich, very powerful, very intelligent people who would turn you into surgical waste with no more thought than putting down a kitten. Your life, in their eyes, is a life not worthy of living. You will accomplish none of the things that they value. You will win no prizes for cello or dance. You will pay no taxes. No Jesuit university president will congratulate you for staging The Vagina Monologues and challenging patriarchy. You’re a burden. That you’re alive at all is due to the belief that you’re more than a burden. Perhaps no man did more to diffuse that belief — in increasingly hostile territory — than the one you’re praying for.


Do you understand much of the prayers you pray when your mother coaches you through your beads? It’s not easy to say. I’d be slow to discount their value. An uncredentialed but otherwise well-informed source has taught us, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

A quality of life the world doesn't understand

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli