The two minute video below was produced for World Down Syndrome Day in March 2014. It is addressed to a mother who has found out that she is going to have a child with Down Syndrome. She says quite simply, “I’m scared.”

The video is the response and reflection from 15 young people with Down Syndrome from all over Europe. It is both poignant and challenging. In the video they answer the question, “What kind of life will my child have?”

The message from the video is that for this mother, it is entirely possible that her son’s life will be happy, just like theirs. They point out that as someone with Down syndrome he has the potential to be able to learn how to write, to travel, to earn a salary and take her out to dinner. And when he is older maybe to live independently. Yes they admit, sometimes it will be very difficult, almost impossible, but then and here is the simple but profound point – isn’t that the case for all mothers? Don’t all parents at some time or another feel at the end of their own resources?

The video also raises the issue of the intrinsic value of people with Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities. The fact is that such people face enormous disadvantages in modern society, one of which is the basic unspoken belief that their lives are somehow less important than the everybody else’s. In other words there is the unspoken belief that such a life is less valuable, less worthwhile, less fulfilling and less worthy of attention.

Such implicit beliefs about what constitutes a valuable human life have devastating consequences. So in Europe it is estimated that roughly 90% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, a trend that has claimed, it is estimated, the lives of more than 55 million children to date. In the United States, the abortion rate for Down’s is given as 30%.

In the UK a new screening technique proposed in February 2015 could lead to an informal eugenics with an estimated 13% decrease in live births in babies with Down’s Syndrome. It has been pointed out that the number of babies with Down Syndrome aborted is set to increase if the UK Government follows the recommendation of the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) and adopts a new cfDNA (cell-free DNA) screening technique.

While the screening itself is being heralded as a move to reduce the number of miscarriages associated with invasive amniocentesis, the UKNSC appear to have downplayed the fact that their pilot study predicts cfDNA screening will detect 102 more babies with Down’s syndrome every year, of which it is expected that 92 will be aborted.

The eugenic abortion of people with Downs Syndrome or other disabilities often happens for two reasons:
1. Many parents whose children have been given a diagnosis or prognosis of foetal disability have experienced a presumption within the medical profession that they would opt for abortion.
2. There is a lack of information and support for parents who want to continue carrying a disabled child, or for those who might be considering adoption. (Steve Jobs was one such baby who was given up for adoption rather than aborted).

In other words the end result of this new screening technique is that certain kinds of people with disabilities would be effectively ‘screened out’ of the population before they are even born. (For more on eugenics and end of life issues see Podcast #017: The Last Taboo Subject?)

A similar attitude concerning relative value of one person over another is responsible for the widespread abortion of female babies in India and China. This has had dramatic effects in some areas on the ratios of male to female children. (For more on this see here).

Compare this to the perspective of Tim Harris who is featured in the 3 minute video below. At 14 years old, Tim dreamed of owning his own restaurant. He was born with Down syndrome, so his parents weren’t quite sure what to think. Yet soon after Tim began his first job at a gourmet burger restaurant a pathway began to emerge.

“[Customers] were visibly happy to see him and Tim really developed a following,” says Keith Harris, Tim’s father. “People would come to the restaurant specifically when he was working. As we sat there, we started thinking about how we could harness that for Tim’s benefit.”

So in 2010, thanks to lots of hard work and the support of his family, Tim’s Place opened for business, serving “breakfast, lunch, and hugs,” according to the restaurant’s web site,. The restaurant kept going until December 2015 when Tim decided he wanted to move to Denver to be nearer his girl-friend.  He has plans to open another restaurant there as well.

“I do not let my disability crush the dreams,” says Tim. “People with disabilities, they can get anything they set their minds to. They’re special. We are a gift to the world.”

Now, through his restaurant, Tim is further enabled and empowered to share that gift with those around him. It is true he provides high-quality food, but he also offers customers a deeper level of affection and connection. Tim is contributing to his community, and his contribution has an impact well beyond the burgers and bacon. “The hugs are way more important than the food,” says Tim. “The food is food.” All this is possible because Tim has Down syndrome.

Tim sees beyond his disability, viewing his value and worth in terms of something bigger and broader and richer: how he serves others.

While it is true that very few people with Down syndrome or disabilities will be able to own and run a restaurant, such a story illustrates the importance of human life as well as the blessing and encouragement that life can be to so many others. In their apparent weakness and vulnerability, people with Down syndrome and learning disabilities have something to teach the rest of us: that life can be celebrated in its own right and not in terms of what we get or consume.

How many scared future mothers could think differently about what the future might hold for them?

What thoughts and questions do these two videos raise for you?