Standing up for dignity of life

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | January 21, 2015

Families of children with Down syndrome help dispel errors

On Jan. 22, 2009, Leticia Velasquez led a group of people to Washington, D.C., to participate in the annual March for Life. Velasquez, co-founder of Keep Infants with Down Syndrome (KIDS), was there to stand up for unborn babies with Down syndrome. At the time, she said, the group was considered a novelty.

Thanks to Velasquez and others (including Brent and Katy Zerkel, who are featured in this week’s Compass), awareness of the gift that babies with Down syndrome offer families is helping to counter negative attitudes and misconceptions.

These attitudes say that children with Down syndrome are not a value to the human family, that they need to be eliminated before birth. “I am happy to say perceptions of Down syndrome are changing,” says Velasquez, whose daughter, Christina, has Down syndrome.

We as Christians know that offering personal testimony (coupled with citations from Scripture and church teaching) is the best way to change hardened hearts. Telling stories about the beauty of life, regardless of perceived imperfections, are needed to topple prevailing attitudes.

More women today have the opportunity to undergo prenatal tests that detect Down syndrome and other genetic conditions. The downside is that one in four patients with a prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome is told by their medical professional to terminate their pregnancy, says Velasquez.

What families are not always told is that children with Down syndrome today can receive early interventions that offer them longer, healthier lives.

Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6,000 (or one of 691) babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States. Thousands of women a year — estimates range from 67 to 92 percent of women — choose to terminate pregnancies when they learn their unborn child has Down syndrome.

Much like the hundreds of thousands of pro-life marchers who descend upon Washington, D.C., each year to rally against abortion, it will take the grassroots efforts of families with Down syndrome children to convince couples who have received a positive prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome not to end their baby’s life.

“It’s an appalling fact that many in the medical profession are not interested in helping us accept our children as they are and offer hope for their future,” says Velasquez, author of the book, “A Special Mother is Born.”

While writing the book, Velasquez said she interviewed parents of children with Down syndrome.

“(They) reported that medical professionals said things like, ‘Your child will destroy your marriage.’ ‘This is an unfair burden to place upon your other children,’” she said. “Some went so far as to say that the unborn baby would not be able to tie his shoes, read or hold a job.”

As KIDS co-founder Eileen Haupt notes, “Doctors can tell you about the challenges which come with a child with Down syndrome but they can’t tell you about the love they bring.”

So we say thanks to Brent and Katy Zerkel for sharing their story about daughter Gabby. Through their testimony, others will know that all life is precious. As Katy explained: “God not only entrusted to us a beautiful baby girl, but he gave her an extra chromosome … that will teach our family many things: how to love deeper, how to have more gratitude for the little things.”

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