Paul Daugherty went viral as an author a couple of years ago when his article “A Letter to My Daughter With Down Syndrome on Her Wedding Day” took the internet by storm. Everyone who read it was touched by Daugherty’s devotion to and confidence in Jillian, his daughter, and her now-husband Ryan, both of whom have Down syndrome.
As a staunch advocate for people with Down syndrome and a friend of the Down syndrome community both in my local area and beyond, Daugherty’s article touched me deeply, and I began following his writings. He is just one of many parents of amazing people with Down syndrome who is using his voice to show the world how precious, valuable, and important to society these people’s lives are.
Photo: Paul Daugherty
Another writer in my life who advocates for people with Down syndrome is Katie M. Reid. Though she writes mostly about Christian parenting, marriage, and womanhood, she has also written some wonderful pieces about her brother Brian, who has Down syndrome. Katie and I have bonded over our love for people with DS, and she often sends me articles she knows I will enjoy, or that will move me to action.
It was from Katie that I heard about Ruth Marcus’ recent Washington Post editorial “I Would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” Katie sent it to me because she knew it would horrify me as much as it did her. Written in response to a law passed in my home state of Ohio and being considered in other states that say doctors cannot perform abortions if the mother’s decision is to abort because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, Marcus’ article is a chilling step toward eugenics – picking and choosing whether our babies’ lives have value based on whether or not they fit our ideals of parenthood. Marcus states that when she was pregnant with each of her two children, she had pre-natal testing for Down syndrome and she says that, “I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.”
Honestly, I had no words to respond to Marcus’ cold article, in which she champions women’s rights above the rights of those with Down syndrome. But fortunately, Down syndrome dad Paul Daugherty DID have the words to respond, and he did so eloquently. In an article on his site entitled “Why Ruth Marcus Is Wrong,” Daugherty eloquently refutes Marcus’ reasoning that a child with Down syndrome (and its mother’s by association) will be a person “whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised.”
Daugherty isn’t having it. He says,
“As for Ruth Marcus: She advocates a woman’s right to choose. That’s OK. What’s not OK is to base that choice on what Marcus sees as a human imperfection. “This was not the child I wanted,” she wrote.
She describes kids born with Down syndrome as people “whose life choices will be limited.” She tries to defend those words by hiding behind the Constitution.
Not the child you wanted? What if someone decides she wants only a blond child? Blue eyes, button nose? A boy? The path to eugenics begins with this sort of thinking.”
That’s the thing about parenting, having a baby, to quote Forrest Gump’s mother’s musings on life, “is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” And have mercy on us, parents, if we DO want to know. If we DO feel it necessary to choose their gender, their IQ, their physical characteristics, BEFORE they are born. Have MERCY on us if we want cookie-cutter babies rather than the unique and wondrous surprises God brings to life every time a child is conceived. Have MERCY if we begin to think that we, rather than God, know what we really need.
Daugherty talks about his daughter Jillian, and how her Down syndrome has been the “singular blessing” in his life. He doesn’t want to go back to a time when he could have chosen for her to be born without DS…because her life, the way it IS, has enriched his in ways he could never have imagined and would never want to be without. He goes on to refute Marcus’ notion of all people with Down syndrome having “limited life choices:”
“Limited life choices? This is something someone who doesn’t have a child born with Down would say. It’s something a person entirely unfamiliar with anyone born with Down would believe. What Ruth Marcus doesn’t know, and unfortunately probably never will, is this:
Our citizens with Down syndrome are, on the whole, better people than the “abled” among us. The character traits they inspire — kindness, loyalty, genuine compassion and concern — should be what we aspire to. Their love is genuine and unconditional. They lead by example.
Those are “limited life choices”?
Bring ’em on.
Meantime, swim more rivers and climb more mountains. Our citizens born with Down syndrome will be happy to show you the way.”
BRING ‘EM ON, indeed. Bring on those precious, wonderful, FULL lives of children made in the image of God who also just so happen to have Down syndrome. Bring ’em on, because they bear a LIGHT our world of darkness so desperately needs to know it cannot live without.
March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day. It’s only a week away! On that day, I ask you to post photos of your friends and loved ones with Down syndrome all over social media. Wear crazy socks, your favorite advocacy t-shirts, and share, share, SHARE the beauty that is Down syndrome. Let’s change some minds and about disability, and change our world for the better.
For more on Paul and Jillian Daugherty, check out his memoir about raising her, An Uncomplicated Life.